"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Me and My Kayak

Did you ever have a "Happy Place"?  A certain place where you go off by yourself to just be?  To think, observe, and be at peace? Many people do, I think, especially when they're children.  My first place was the bathroom closet.  Now before you laugh, it was a large closet and I was a small child!  It had a louvered door, and I was always fascinated with the patterns of the light as it came through the louvers and laid on the towels.  Of course I couldn't see those patterns unless I went in the closet and shut the door, and of course I couldn't help it if that was the same time that my Mom was looking for me.  I suppose that's part of what makes a Happy Place special, one never gets to stay there for long.

As I got older, my Happy Place changed.  There was that certain corner in the hay loft, that certain branch in the catalpa tree, that certain cedar that hung out over the gulley in the back section of the farm.  The Happy Place can be anywhere one finds it - when I was young it was often on the back of my horse - now it's on the lake in my kayak.

Thirteen feet eight inches of green plastic; wide in the middle and pointed at each end. A seven foot aluminum shaft with oddly shaped plastic bits at both ends. Doesn't sound like much, does it?  But oh the places we go! 
Sometimes we're out on the Great Lake, nothing but tall billows of mysterious blue between me and Canada.  There's an edge of excitement and fear.  Tipping here would be disaster, can't let the current pull me sideways, paddle, paddle, paddle, hang on....now, turn and stroke hard!  Then a deep sigh as I glide safely back into the harbor and an irrepressible urge to giggle nervously as I've cheated the waves one more time.

Sometimes we're out on the Bay, calmer, more protected, much more shallow - yet if the wind picks up still a challenge.  It's invigorating to paddle straight out, slicing into each wave, the bow slapping down in the trough, spray flying, a ferocious grin on my face.  Or it's a quiet day, and I paddle lazily, letting the tide take me where it will as I lose myself in watching the drops fall from the end of my paddle and shatter into brilliant reflections.
Sometimes we're out under a hot sun on an airless August afternoon, the water flat and green, egrets slowly stalking the shallows and glaring at us when we get too close. I slump back in the seat, legs up over the edges of the cockpit, feet trailing in the water 'til even that isn't cooling enough and I roll out, falling into the delicious green coolness and swim for a while, my kayak patiently waiting on it's tether.

Sometimes we get to the edge of the water, and God says "not today".
Sometimes we paddle back into the channels, watching for deer and eagles in the wooded section, and admiring the tall, fancy houses in the development.  Once I almost hit a turtle with my paddle, and more than once I've had big carp bump into the bottom of my 'yak.  Now that is a disturbing feeling!
Sometimes we go out when the sun is striking red and gold fire in the maple leaves, and the sky is so blue and deep that I feel I could float right on up into that limitlessness, if only I could paddle a little harder.  I pick up the leafy jewels from the water, and lay them along the side of my kayak just to enjoy them more.

Sometimes we'll float down a river, drawn along by wondering what is around each bend; startled by fishermen on the bridge yelling when we catch their unseen filament lines with our paddles and instinctively ducking as a beet truck thunders across the highway bridge just as we pass under.
Sometimes we'll travel to a new put-in and discover new views, like a towering rock shaped like a turnip or small caves in the shoreline that are invisible from land.

Sometimes we go out when the mist has come in, and all is shrouded in white mystery.  The sun becomes shy and peeks out every so often to see if we're still there.  Everything is perfectly calm and sounds carry for miles, each stroke of the paddle sending watery echoes to the shore.  The reflection of the house behind us somehow lays out in front of us and we're paddling over the image of the back door - which is on the opposite side of the house!  After experiencing that,  I wasn't quite sure we were going to make it back to the same reality we had left just an hour before.

Sometimes we'll load the kayaks on the trailer and head out for adventures up north. 
And sometimes we go out so late in the season that everyone else has given up for the year.  We paddle past closed up cottages, with boats in their yards, sleeping under tarps.  We work our way around large pieces of ice, oak leaves frozen perfectly flat into the surface.  Stopping to take a picture gets a little more complicated when I realize the breeze has pushed my kayak up onto the shore ice, and I have to use my paddle like a ski pole to push back off into the water.

Sometimes I'll do crazy things with my kayak - which doesn't always work out well.  I've learned that a Garmin GPS unit is waterproof as advertised but phones and cameras are not; that paddling along the outside edge of a harbor breakwall is a bad idea; that shooting a shotgun while seated in a kayak will not send you scooting backwards across the water; nor will hooking a large fish on your line drag the kayak along behind it - unless you haven't dropped the anchor.

We've had some adventures, my kayak and I.  The green is beginning to look a bit faded; there are bumps and bruises and many, many scratches; the paddle is battered and scraped, all of it mute testimony to hours of fun.   And each time I haul my boat out I am again so thankful to my Mom for introducing me to kayaking, and buying my boat for me.  Thanks Mom!  Many times she and my daughter are along for these wonderful adventures, which makes my Happy Place even happier.

And we keep looking for converts!  Friends that visit are often dragged out to the water with nothing more than a 'try this you'll like it', and after paddling around for a bit, most whole-heartedly agree.  It's so much fun to see someone else get bit by the paddling bug, and I always hope that I've helped them find a Happy Place.

Now doesn't that make you want to come along?

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Little Before and After

Can't believe it's October already.  I think it's my favorite month of the year - I love all of it.  The crisp, cool air, my neighbor's tractors roaring through the harvest, colors, football, geese flying overhead, their mournful calls echoing, and most especially the colors.  I can't imagine living where the maples and beeches and poplars don't burst into flames every fall.  We took advantage of it all by spending last weekend exploring the Houghton and Higgins Lake area, getting the truck muddy on the trails.

Got myself into a bit of heat exhaustion early in the summer, coupled with accidentally exposing myself to chlorine gas when trying to fix the pool pump.  So I've spent most of the summer sort of dragging my tail feathers with little energy to care for the homestead, or write, or can tomatoes. God was watching over me, though.  The chlorine incident could have been much worse.  And I'm feeling better now.

The garden this year was Not Good.  All was going well, even though I didn't know for sure exactly what plants I had in the ground, due to an unfortunately windy day and a failure on my part to properly secure my little greenhouse.  I came home from work to find it toppled over, all the little transplants tumbled in a heap.  I was able to re-pot many of them, however in the jumble it was impossible to know if I had Mortgage Lifter or Amish Paste, yellow squash, or zucchini.  But everything rooted well and grew quickly.  This little greenhouse was only $20.00, and was perfect for hardening off my transplants.  Properly secured against the wind I'd say two or three of these little portable units would be a great investment for folks with a small garden.  I've seen them in garden catalogs for well over $60.00, so make sure you shop around.
Some of the survivors.
I am glad I used the landscaping fabric, it made a world of difference in weed control and it didn't take much time at all the keep the plants weed-free.  The fence kept out those pesky rabbits and my beans were safe.  Everything was going well, until I made an impulse buy, late in the season, of a lonely little pumpkin plant outside local store.  It just looked sad, so I brought it home and put it in a corner of the garden.  Three weeks later I realized it had been mislabled.  Four weeks later I realized my adopted warty squash plant had brought in diseases, and my giant, happy spaghetti squash plant in the opposite corner of the garden died within a week, despite my efforts with anti-fungal soaps.  Then the tomato plants went.  Sigh.  However I did get a good bean harvest and I'm still digging potatoes and carrots.

Coming into the fall and winter I'm glad to finally have one of my on-going projects completed.  The window quilts for the living room are done, and hung in the windows.  I completed the pieced front, and then got blanket fleece in hunter green for the backs.  A friend at work used her long-arm quilter to do the seams for me, and I sewed rings along the outside edges for the cording.  It runs through the rings and across the top of the window in small eye bolts screwed into the trim.  When I pull the shades up I simply wrap the cording around a cleat screwed into the wall to keep the shades at whatever height I like.  I didn't want rings right down the center for a cleaner look from the outside, however there was an un-expected bonus - when I pull the shades up, instead of staying straight across like a roman shade, they 'pouf' into an attractive arc in the window.

Well, that's the updates, my friends.  I hope all of you have plenty of food put up for the winter and that you see God's blessings every day.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Moments in Time

Every now and again in the headlong rush of everyday life I suddenly find myself in an encounter with Stillness, and in that Stillness, sometimes I find a Moment.
Oh, I know what you're thinking - in modern parlance a woman who is 'having a moment' is losing her cool and emoting all over the people who happen to be nearby.
But my Moments are not simply a quiet time of reading a book, or daydreaming while doing a task, or even losing my cool.  They can more easily be described with phrases such as C.S. Lewis' "Surprised by Joy", or even the verse from the Bible "be still and know that I am God".
I never know when a Moment will come, what shape or color it will be, or what scent it holds.

The Moments come suddenly but gently and always fill me with a supreme content.  I feel completely at peace, secure and cared for as I must have felt as a tiny infant held in my Mother's arms.  Nothing is wrong, no matters are pressing, no regrets, no sorrows; no chores cry out to be done, the weight of responsibility no longer lays on my mind or my shoulders. I am free, and still, and quiet, and happy.
These Moments do not happen frequently, and I feel them so deeply that I can remember them for years.  One time that still lives clear and bright in my mind occurred near Christmas when I was but six years old.  I was in my room in our old farmhouse, the upstairs bedroom with but one window and sloping ceilings tucked under the eaves of the roof.  I was laying on my bed, my head cushioned on a favorite stuffed toy, it's plush fur soft on my cheek.  In my hand was clutched a book that I was struggling to stay awake and read.  My gaze fell on a decoration on my dresser, which was a small Christmas tree of silver tinsel with a bright red ornament on the top.  The tree sparkled in the light and then the sparkles seemed to surround me with warmth and joy.  More than forty years have passed, but I can still feel the joy of that Moment.  I think even then I realized it was something special.

Today I had another Moment.  I came in for dinner after cutting the grass, but wasn't very hungry. So instead of eating, I sat in my recliner, leaned back, and closed my eyes, and there it was.  The sting of sunburn on my arms, the music of the birds busy about the yard, the gentle tones of the windchimes on my porch; the scent of freshly-cut grass and the lily-of-the-valley in the fence row, the rich fragrance of baking bread coming from the kitchen, and the soft caress of the breeze flooding through the open window all surrounded me in a zone of comfort and peace and joy.  For just that fleeting Moment, all was right with my world.

I treasure these Moments.  They often seem perhaps like a gift from God, just the tiniest foretaste of what heaven will be like.
Today I planted corn, onions, and peppers in the garden.  The tomatoes and squash I put in last weekend seem to be doing well, and some of the potatoes have sprouted.  I've gone back to using landscaping fabric for the whole of the garden.  It's expensive, yes, but when I look at that cost vs. the cost of time and effort to deal with the weeds and cultivating while working full time and trying to keep up with other chores I've decided it's worth it.  The garden is smaller this year, as well.  We finished putting the fence up and now I have to fashion a gate.  The eternal hope of a gardener - this year will be better than last!  Last year I didn't use the fabric and never got time to put up a fence and I ended up with a fine crop of weeds and the rabbits ate all my beans.  Not this year!

Spring has been a busy time, the snow was slow to melt and then the rains came, so the garden is late this year and I've been dealing with flat tires, broken pins, and other mechanical issues with my lawn tractor and attachments.  It took two days just to get the weedeater to start and it still isn't running right.  Then there's the whole 'windows left open during a torrential downpour' incident.  Life is never boring on the old homestead!

Strawberries should be coming on soon, and I hope I can get two or three flats, at least.  It's getting harder and harder to find good local sources as several of the farms I used to visit have closed down.  Just thinking about fresh Michigan strawberries makes my mouth water, they're so good, especially after a long winter of only dried or frozen berries.

I've also been going through my pantry storage to see what I have and what I need to stock up on and what I want more of so I know what to put in the garden.  Somehow I managed to run out of pasta just when we wanted our favorite hot-weather tuna salad dish.  Now I know most people don't get excited about pantry staples, but I've been so very happy to find non-GMO flour at the local Mennonite store!  It is truly wonderful stuff and my bread has never tasted better.  It's more expensive that the regular GMO flour, currently around $30.00 for 50 pounds, but oh is it worth it!

Well that brings us up to date - I am sorry I haven't written more, sometimes life just gets in the way and I've had to travel for work a lot lately.  I hope all of you are doing well and have your gardens in!  God bless!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflections in the Snow

I just went out to call the dog in, and the sky is breathtaking!  I wish I was a good enough photographer to capture it all.  It's around ten below zero, and the air is sharp and clear.  Standing on my porch I see the moon peering down from a velvet blue sky, glinting on the icicles and lighting the yard with a soft, sliver light.  The stars are so clear and so close, and somehow their twinkling seems joyous.  Off to my right my American flag stirs just a bit in a gentle sigh of wind, the stars on the deep blue field echoing the sky above.  The sky is so soft and blue and deep I could almost feel myself falling up into the limitlessness of it, my snowflake jammies warm in the still air, blue fuzzy slippers trailing along behind.

This is the time of deep mid-winter, of frosty mornings and cozy evenings by the fire.  We've already gained an hour or so of sunlight since the solstice, but the cold has not eased it's grip, not even for the traditional January thaw.  It puts me in mind of how winter was when I was small:  endless acres of fields buried beneath the drifts, icicles on the eaves, cold toes and wet mittens.  I must admit, I'm enjoying it.  Yes, I said it, I'm actually enjoying the cold and the snow!  I think I'm acclimated to it.  This morning I was out doing some chores and the sun felt warm on my shoulders.  I got so warm I had to take off my hat and scarf, only to come in and notice the thermometer said 3 below zero.  Sunday it was all the way up to 19, and it felt like Spring to me so I went shopping after church without my jacket.
Driving to work at -15 F.
What can I say, I've always loved winter.  We wore snow pants and boots to school, and hats and mittens Grandma had knitted.  One afternoon when I was about eight the schoolbus got stuck in a giant drift, so the farmer at the closest house put a bunch of straw in his manure spreader, hooked it to the tractor, and came out to the bus.  We all clambered off the bus and into the manure spreader and had us a hilarious hayride as he went from house to house, getting everyone home before dark.  Our parents were grateful, and us kids thought it was a blast.  Can you imagine something like that happening now, in these days of political correctness, irresponsibility, and lawsuits?

Of course, it's not all fun and games.  The propane bill is wiping out my savings, and there's been some terrible accidents in the county.  And every now and then when I'm looking at seed catalogs I'm anxious to get back in the garden.

But fter a couple of years with little snow, it's been great to get out my cross-country skis again.  Skiing through drifts is a lot of work!  Fortunately I found a snowmobile trail to follow for a while.  Fresh air, sunshine, and diamonds all around.  What could be better?

By the time I got back around, my tracks were starting to fill in again.

Skiing where no one has skied before!
 Last winter I bought a used snowblower, and never needed it.  This year I can't say just how happy I am to have it!  Trying to shovel my driveway would have just been overwhelming this year.  Thankfully this old machine has been staring right up and working well.  I'm also so blessed to have a 4x4 truck!  The winds have made it difficult for the road crews to keep up, and there's a time or two I probably would have been stuck, if not for that magical button on the dash.

Work has been taking a lot of time, with plenty of meetings and such.  Many days it seems I hardly  get through supper and do up the dishes before it's bedtime already, but I have been working on projects, such as trying to finally finish the window quilts for the front room, cleaning out the basement, and experimenting with some new recipes for laundry soap and venison lunchmeat.  I've also been dealing with some allergy-type things and have embarked on a crusade to not only get chemicals out of my home but to improve my immune system.

So all in all, it's been a  busy winter!  I hope this finds all of you doing well.  God bless, and stay warm!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Falling into Fall

More like plummeting, actually.  Not gentle like Alice in the rabbit hole, floating along and watching things drift by, but a headlong, wind-roaring-in-the-ears flight.  Tomatoes, beans, carrots, venison, apples - my canners live on my stove, my counter is never free of jars!  Grass cutting.  Putting the big cover on the pool and the pool pump in the basement. Lots of painting, too.  Yes, for some reason, I always seem to end up painting my porch in October.  Today's effort was to powerwash the house, only to find out that the powerwasher is dead.  So I spent the day with the long-handled scrub brush, getting what I could reach and hosing it all down.  Not as nice as I wanted it, but at least I got the mold off the north wall, the walls around the front door scrubbed, all the windows washed as well. Glad that's done, but my goodness my shoulders are unhappy! 
My antique miracle apple tree has given about four bushels of apples this year.  Extra bounty God sent along because we had no apples in Michigan last year.  I still have about six 5-gallon buckets full to process; most will be applesauce but I'm thinking about making apple juice, too.  It would be nice to have some without pesticides or arsenic or corn syrup added!
When the weather allows, I tend to process my apples out on the patio.  Between boiling the apples to soften them, then dipping them out and putting them through the Victorio strainer, I tend to make quite a mess and it's great to keep all that outside. I love having that strainer - it's the very one my Mom and I used all the time back on the farm.  It's so easy to use, and it's perfect for using the smaller, somewhat gnarly apples we get from the older trees that don't get sprayed.  All I do is chop the apples in quarters, remove the wormy or bruised bits, and throw them in a pot of boiling water on my grill.  Once they've softened enough, I just run them through the strainer and it takes out all the seed, stems, and peels, leaving me with clean applesauce. I jar up the sauce and can it, I like it better than frozen applesauce.  I add water, since the strainer leaves the apples dry, and certain secret spices.  Good stuff!

Jars of Goodness
The house is too quiet with Daughter gone off to college, and some of the chores are a bit much without help.  We only have a 13' above ground pool, one of the blue ones you see in everyone's back yard during the summer - but have you ever tried putting a cover on one by yourself when the wind is blowing?  I finally gave up and waited for her to come home for a weekend and help.
I did get a couple of chances to go outside and play, kayaking and geocaching for a few hours here and there. My Mom and I have been checking out different put-ins for the kayaks and recently paddled several miles on a local river, it was fun but we learned to be careful going under bridges, after a close call with a fisherman's line.  That monofilament stuff is impossible to see when you're just paddling along, minding your own business; thankfully niether one of us dropped a paddle or anything when the guy holding the pole at the other end of the line suddenly yelled at us.
Michigan is just awesome this time of year and I love being out in the elements when it's all happening and changing.  I went on an 'explore' one day last week, and ended up in a small state park on the lakeshore.  It was one of those signature Michigan October days with a stiff northwest wind and bright sunshine chasing the clouds.  The lake was dark blue, looking so cold and deep and lonely one could see November lurking in it's depths, and for once I had no desire to challenge it with a kayak.  A series of white, mountainous clouds came sailing in from the north and stumbled over the low-lying, flat gray clouds that had been hanging over the lake. They tumbled over each other and continued moving south, dragging skirts of snow showers along. 

I moved from the shore along a trail into a lowland woods filled with popples and maples and oaks, all dressed in their autumn finery and chattering loudly to each other, bending their faces away from the wind.  The air was clear, fresh, and filled with the heady scent of fallen leaves, with a hint of woodsmoke and the round, blue scent of the lake. I rounded a corner on the trail just as the sun burst through the overcast, touching a sugar maple and lighting it into scarlet flame.  A sudden gust shook the tree and I threw my head back and laughed and danced in the shower of red and gold, arms spread wide, exulting in the cold, fresh, bright glory, feet shuffling through the carpet of leaves.
Dancing Boots
The sunlight disappeared just as quickly, and I lowered my arms, belatedly looking about to see if anyone else was around.  Thankfully, I had the park to myself that day, or my face would have been as scarlet as the leaves!  I walked the length of the trail, through a light rain that seemed surprised to find itself landing on my shoulders as tiny bits of snow.  It felt so good to move and stretch and warm my muscles with the exercise as my eyes drank in the beauty all around me.  I was tired and happy when I got back to the truck, and finished off a great afternoon with a peaceful drive home, heater on high and a blazing sunset for company.  Doesn't get much better than that!  Happy Autumn, my friends!
One of my favorite viewpoints

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Changes and Restlessness

My Dad, who says that approaching the age of eighty allows him to lay claim to wisdom, predicted back in January that 2013 would be a "year of change".  Perhaps he was well aware that Daughter was to graduate this year, or perhaps his wisdom was telling him something, I don't know, but he was right.

It has been a bit of a challenge, getting through this year.  So many changes to cope with and so much to do leaves little time for relaxing or reading-or writing-and I feel like hollering "stop the world, I want to get away from this ceaseless spinning for a minute"!  But it doesn't stop, so we must cope as best we can.

Daughter has graduated from high school, and plans to attend college starting next week.
I've had a bit of surgery, nothing major but it kept me down and useless for a month or so.
For the first time in forty years I got my hair cut short - wow that's been an adjustment!
I've made major changes to my kitchen and the spare bedroom.
I finally repaired the truck cap on got it put on the truck.
The garden is in, but between the incessant rain and the bumper crop of rabbits bouncing around my yard I won't have much harvest.
And it seems every time I turn around, we lose electrical power so the sump pump doesn't work and the rain floods the basement.

Sometimes it's hard to remember to stop and count my blessings, but despite all the change and craziness, we're really doing well.  We're basically healthy, we have plenty to eat, a roof over our heads, and I still have a full-time job.

I do confess to a certain restlessness, such as I haven't felt since my college days.  Maybe with my rapidly approaching fiftieth year I'm having a mid-life crisis - in which case I think I should go out and buy a motorcycle, and take up playing bass guitar for Montgomery Gentry.  But for now I'll make do with clearing excess stuff out of my house, and taking the long way home.

Last week I had to attend a meeting down in Lansing.  On the way home I decided to avoid the expressway and wander along the back roads; with no set plan I would simply take whatever road struck my fancy.  Michigan is beautiful, did you know that?  There was sadness, too, of course.  Silent, empty factories, with giant, weed-choked parking lots.  Tumble-down shacks with ten junk cars out front.  Getting stuck behind another walmart truck for ten miles of hills.  And the thousands of dead and dying ash trees, with whole woodlots and fence rows of dead skeletal branches reaching skyward in protest.  Our poor state is under attack from so many foreign invaders that are killing our native plants and animals!  Even just during my lifetime the landscape has changed dramatically.
But for that day, with the sun playing tag with some rainclouds, and the open road before me, it was wonderful-good.

I was in a kettle moraine area where the roads swooped up and down hills and curved around unexpected little lakes before straightening out and shooting between massive crop fields.  The colors, the sights, the smells; everywhere I went, it was a quintessential calendar picture of a Michigan summer.  Long, orderly rows of beans marching to the next fence row where a doe and her two fawns slipped out of the woods to munch on the blossoms.  The sharp, acrid scent of corn pollen.  An old white house with weathervanes and a big front porch, nestled between the original windmill and a happy red barn bearing a sign: Pioneer Farm, Established 1836.  A tiny cemetery where the setting sun lit the old stones that mutely speak of hard work, short lives, and a civil war. The sweet, homey smell of a just-cut hayfield.  A sudden hill-top view of a deep, cold lake with boats scattered about it's surface.  Little towns with names like Pewamo and Ionia, where old houses with corbels and dormers and fieldstone foundations hide behind massive shade trees.  Kids out on bikes, a tiny elderly woman buzzing along on a giant lawn tractor, expertly swinging around the birdbath, a couple of guys with their jean-clad backsides sticking out from under the hood of a classic car, a farmer pulling a load of straw bales, his son perched on his lap, tiny hand on the steering wheel and a giant grin on his face.  The Tiger ballgame on the radio, AM static crashing just like when I was a kid, though I still miss Ernie Harwell.

Every mile or two, a narrow dirt road would beckon me to follow it off under the trees, with promises of "Charlie's Sweet Corn", or firewood for $40.00 a face cord, a public access park along a lake or river, or home-made ice cream, a dozen flavors.  Really, I could have simply kept driving, kept looking and enjoying and wandering for days and not grown tired of it.  Maybe someday I will just keep on going, meandering my way right on up through the UP and on into Canada.

But for now, responsibilities hold me close. Playtime was over; I had to get back to work the next day, get back to mowing, weeding, mulching, painting, cleaning; walking the dawg, paying bills, filling the bird feeders, cooking, baking, laundry; and readying Daughter for dorm life.  It's also time to get serious about making some peach jam and putting up corn and beans, not to mention making another batch of laundry soap and experimenting with the new recipes I've been collecting.

And maybe a few minutes to daydream over the motorcycles for sale section of craigslist.....

Friday, April 5, 2013

When Would You Go?

Well, the Easter Holy-day has already come and gone, I hope it was a blessed one for you and your family.  I love the simple, time-honored rituals and pageantry of my church during Holy Week; the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services of black drapings, darkness, and sad hymns of the Ultimate Sacrifice; then the glorious and triumphant Easter morning of white and gold, trumpets and thunderous, joyous hymns of celebration and thanksgiving!  I know that my Redeemer lives, what comfort this sweet sentence gives! 

Spring is officially here, though the weather is only reluctantly acknowledging it.  But the robins and red-wing blackbirds have returned and the sky is full of noisy geese honking their way northward.  The nasty grackle has come back to my feeders, chasing away everyone else, beating up the goldfinches and greedily tearing apart the suet block.  The trees haven't budded yet but the sky has that sharp blue of early spring and most of the snow is gone.

I was in one of the more remote parts of the county when I snapped this picture:

It might be difficult to make out, as my phone camera isn't the best, but there are no less than eleven jet trails across the sky.  Add in the electrical wires in the foreground and the view is rather cluttered, to my way of thinking.  I remember right after 9/11, when all air travel was grounded for a while, how clean and empty the sky was.  My Dad said it reminded him of his childhood, when there weren't any jet trails and the sky was always clean.

Which brings up a favorite topic of mine:  time travel.  I've always found the idea fascinating, and it's been the basis for a plot line in some of the best stories, from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, to "Time and Again" by Jack Finney, to "Somewhere in Time" by Richard Matheson.

So if you had the opportunity to time travel, when would you go? 

The heart and mind shrink away from the immediate thought of being in the crowd of listeners as Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount; seeing the Son of God is so beyond any fanciful discussion.

But there are thousands of years of history to explore.  Would you see the pyramids being built?  Duck as Martin Luther throws his inkwell at the devil? Follow Lindbergh across the Atlantic?  Listen to Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address?  Watch the last spike be driven for the trans-continental railway?  Struggle through the first winter with the Mayflower pilgrims? Hear the hoofbeats as Paul Revere rides?  Watch men land on the moon?  (Some of us can remember that!) The possibilities are endless.

And then there's the central thought to all time travel stores:  would you try to change history?  Would you try to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand?  Perhaps evacuate Pearl Harbor and set up anti-aircraft guns on December 6th?  Conk J.W. Booth on the head when he enters the back door of Ford's Theater?  Hit "reverse" on the Titanic's engine control?  Abduct Hitler as a child, and leave him on a remote sheep station in Australia?  Again, the possibilities are endless, but when one considers making changes to history, the ethical and moral dilemmas are also endless.

But most of my thoughts on time travel are much more humble.  I'm not so interested in the mighty battles and famous people, I think about here. Good old Michigan. And I want, in the worst way, to see it as it was 200 or even 100 years ago.

I've traveled quite a bit of the state, and love to explore historical sites and read the markers.  There are hundreds of ghost towns; some with a house or two still standing, most with nothing but the outlines of stone foundations alongside the ghostly trace of an old railway.  Everywhere there are barns, beautiful, graceful structures that once sheltered a farm family's hopes and dreams, now in various stages of decay.  It amazes me how well built and sturdy these structures are, their century old timbers stubbornly resisting the elements even after decades of neglect, and it makes me so sad to see them knocked down and burned in the name of progress.

I wish to see the beech and maple forests, the deep, dark woods of giant white pines that ruled before the loggers came.  I want to be part of a pioneer family that cuts the trees and raises the barns, to be part of that energy and hope and struggle when the earth was quiet and the skies were innocent of jet exhaust. I want to see and coal-powered steamers on the Saginaw River, and tall-masted sailing ships on the Bay.  I want to visit Mackinac Island, walk the wide porch of the Grand Hotel in it's heyday, and attend a worship service in the old stone church just below it.  Then there's the local tragedies that send echoes of pain and sadness across the years, like the bombing of the Bath School in 1927, or the Great Fire of 1881.  I found this stone in a tiny cemetery on a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere, it tells a sad story:

Occasionally it seems I can almost reach out and touch history - in some areas here history wasn't so long ago!

I used to attend a Bible study led by a a wonderfully gracious and intelligent woman who had spent decades as a teacher in a local rural school, a true one-room schoolhouse that served kindergarten through eighth grade, a remnant of the pioneer schools.  I remember the tales she told of her mother's life in the Michigan woods, especially the time she was home alone with the baby in the cabin, as all the men-folk had left to hunt the bear that was terrorizing the neighborhood.  Of course, when she went out to hang the wash, she came face to face with the bear right there in the yard.  Being a pragmatic pioneer sort of woman, she simply dropped the laundry basket, grabbed a shotgun from the cabin, and shot the bear.  The amazed consternation of the men-folk upon their return was the topic of many a family gathering, to be sure.  Within my own family I marvel at the memories of the horse-drawn milk wagon making the rounds every morning, the struggle to 'get by' on the home garden and chicken flock during the depression, and the nostalgia for a time when a good job at Chrysler or GM meant security.

I hope everyone takes a moment or two to appreciate the history that's all around us.  We can't time travel, but we can think and read and learn and remember.

Until next time, God bless you and keep you, my friends.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Play Date!

Well, maybe the term doesn't apply for someone my age, but really, it was fun and relaxing and a little bit exciting, just like gluing glitter to construction paper Christmas ornaments in third grade.  A friend came over last Saturday, and we spent the day makin' stuff.

First we made another batch of the lemon sugar scrub I made for New Year's.  The apricot oil I used in the original recipe had an odd odor to it, so that I ended up using a lot of lemon oil to cover it.  This time we replaced the oil with vegetable grade glycerin, but I'm not sure if I like it.  It took less lemon oil to make it smell wonderful, but the scrub isn't as softening as the first one was, and after a few days in the jar it separated.  More experimentation is called for on this one.

Next up was lip balm.  Our recipe was very simple - one ounce beeswax, four ounces coconut oil, and a teaspoon of flavoring oil.  The instructions called for vegetable oil, but one of my homesteading friends had been talking about how great coconut oil was so I had bought a jar and thought this was a good way to try it.  I think it gave better results than the oil might have.  The beeswax is melted in a double boiler (we used a pint canning jar in a pot of water) then the coconut oil is added and it is blended well.
Adding the flavor oil is the last step, then a pipette is used to transfer the liquid balm into the containers.  We did some with strawberry flavor, and some with spearmint, and they both smell great. The balm turned out very nice, soft and easy to apply, but doesn't melt when carried in my pocket.  Definitely doing this again.  We learned a lot about the process and if you try it here's a couple of tips:  keep the balm jar in the hot water and work quickly as the balm will set up fast and leave air bubbles in the tube or clog the pipette.  It's also handy to use a small basket to keep the tube upright while filling.

Ready to fill the tubes

Cooled and getting caps

For our last project of the day, we made laundry soap.  She brought the ingredients and a scribbled list of instructions which only she could read, so I was often confused.  She handed me half a bar of soap and said "this is for you".  Ok, great, um, thanks...I'll put it here by the sink.  "No, you silly, grate it into the bowl!"  Ah, ok, I'm following you now!  She was busilly grating away with the other half of the bar, and using my only grater, so I went digging in the cupboard and pulled out what might be an old time cheese grater - not sure what it is, but it sure did a great job on the soap!
A few turns of the crank, effortless grated soap!

I eventually got her to translate the recipe:

1 cup borax
1 cup super washing soda
1/2 bar Fels naptha soap
1 bar any soap with glycerin, such as Ivory
4 cups hot water
4 1/2 gallons very warm water

Grate the bar soaps into separate bowls and add 2 cups of hot water to each bowl.  Microwave each bowl for one minute and whisk thoroughly.  Put 4 1/2 gallons warm water in a 5 gallon bucket, add the melted soaps, borax, and washing soda.  Whisk thoroughly and put the lid on tightly and let stand overnight.  Whisk a few times before use.

Well, that's what the recipe said.  (We doubled it so we'd each have a bucket full.) After the soap had sat in the buckets a couple of days, I finally got around to putting it in jugs.  When I pulled the lids off the buckets, I was surprised to find a gelatinous mass of an uncertain color.  I guess I had been expecting some sort of liquid-y detergent-y sort of result, but no matter, I grabbed the largest spoon I had and started stirring,  It took quite a while to get the entire bucket of gel whisked up, but I got it done and started filling jugs.  We ended up with quite a bit of soap!

I've used it for four or five loads so far, and I'm very happy with the results.  I didn't care for the smell of the Fels-Naptha, but thankfully the smell isn't present in the clean clothes.   It's not a homogenous mixture, but I just shake the jug before I pour, and I use about one cupful for a load.
The weather, though cold, was clear on Sunday, and I used my new soap to wash my linens and hung them out on the line.  I think they seem cleaner than with store-bought detergent, and it is so heavenly to sleep in fresh sheets that were dried outside in the sunshine and fresh air! This project was definitely worth it - especially with the cost of store-bought detergent these days.  We have maybe twelve to fifteen dollars invested and have ten gallons of detergent.

Yes, I'm going to say it - the whole day was good clean fun!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More Winter!

Well, the weather guessers, as a friend likes to call them, are running around squawking with their feathers ruffled.  Seems mid-Michigan is supposed to get some snow.  I'm ok with that.  As a Michigan native, I sort of expect that this time of year.  To be honest, I'd like to see more than the paltry 5" to 7" that is forecast. I'd like to see a good 12" or more - enough to shut down every school in three counties, and close my office for the day.  Wouldn't a day off to stay home warm and snug just be wonderful? 
Of course, as a Michigan native that has seen almost fifty winters, I'm smart enough to prepare for the challenges of the season.  I've loved winter for as long as I can remember, and while the severe cold is getting a bit hard on the joints I still love it.  I suppose as with many things, it's the childhood experience that sets one's preferences in life.  My young childhood had an idyllic setting - a forty acre farm equipped with a hundred-year old house, a massive barn with hand-hewn beams and large hayloft, a small creek bisecting the property, and beautiful, giant maple trees flanking two sides of the house.  Best of all was the catalpa tree in the back yard that leaned a bit to the east, making it so easy to climb, and the tire swing tied to a stout branch.

That farm was where I learned to love the pattern and rhythm of the seasons and it's the site of so many memories - that first spring bike ride, splashing through the icy puddles on the dirt road; the glory of those maples every autumn, summer afternoons with the catalpa tree blossoms floating in my little wading pool.  But it is the winter I remember most clearly, the smells and sights and feelings of it.  Perhaps because winter brought Christmas?  Perhaps because I immersed myself in the stories of Silver Chief and the Yukon Territory?  Hard to say.

I remember magical first snows, the type that is a pure, fluffy white with the blades of grass showing through, perfect for building snowmen, and the dry squelching sound my boots made in it.  I remember staying outside until my fingers and toes were tingling with cold, and my mittens were soggy.  Mom would call us in for lunch, spaghettios and milk in front of the kitchen fireplace and oh how we'd holler as our hands and feet thawed!

Dad would use a front end loader to clear the driveway and push the snow up into piles perfect for playing king of the hill and trying out our new plastic sleds.  We had the kind that were a simple sheet of dark blue plastic with a couple of holes cut in for handles.  The plastic naturally liked to live in a roll shape, and wasn't fond of unrolling.  It was always a bit tricky to try to unroll it and try to hold it flat while simultaneously jumping on to it before it rolled up again or took off down the hill before one had both butt-cheeks on it.  More often than not, sled and kid would end up bumbling down the hill in a sort of half-rolled sandwich, boots, scarves, and mittens poking out at odd angles, landing in a giggling heap at the bottom.

Sometimes I would wake up early, well before dawn, but the world would still be light, snow gleaming with thousands of sparkles under a bright moon.  I would wake up my little brother, and the two of us would quietly pad down the stairs and out into the kitchen, where I would make each of us a bowl of oatmeal.  We'd put on our snowsuits and struggle into our boots and mittens, and let ourselves out into the silver world, amazed at the velvet blue sky above, and the intricate blue shadows on the snow under the trees.  We'd climb up into the hayloft and build a fort out of bales, then snuggle down and read books, the cows sleepily murmuring in the stalls below.

Now that I think of it, that may have been the last time I enjoyed getting up early!

With memories like those, who wouldn't love winter?  Yes, as a grown-up I've had to face the reality of frozen water pipes, heat bills, icy roads, and getting stuck; and sad incidents of  folks being stranded or killed in accidents, but I've never lost my love for winter.  And as I said before, I keep prepared for it.

Recently I pulled my pack out of the truck and went through it again to make sure it was well-stocked and ready for anything from being stranded by a storm to a vehicle break down.  It really doesn't take a lot of money to gather a few things together.

I start with a nifty camouflage pack that is designed to function as a backpack, as well as attach to the back of the truck seat that I found on a clearance rack for ten bucks.  In that pack I have:
blanket (bright red fleece and zips up to form a light-weight sleeping bag)
change of clothes
old windbreaker
water in pouches (freezes without bursting, ordered from Amazon)
power bars
hot chocolate and instant soup
metal cup
sterno fuel and folding stove
first aid kit
personal care package (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc; the little bottles you get at a hotel are great for this)
foot and hand warmers
insect repellant
It's amazing, but it all fits in the pack, and the pack fits under the back seat of the truck.  There's another pack for the vehicle things, like cans of fix a flat, bungee cords, jumper cables and so on, and the snow shovel and can of gas go in the truck bed.  And as with many preparations, I always hope I don't need any of it, but it's peace of mind to know I have it.  Hmm, that sort of sounds like a motto, doesn't it?

Until next time, God bless you and keep you safe, my friends.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Musings on the Way Home

February often puts me in a contemplative mood.  The busyness of December and January have faded, and I inevitably come to the realization that winter is getting soft around the edges before I've had a chance to play in the snow.  The days are getting longer, the sun stronger, but my skis are still warm and dry in the hall closet, and there's nary a snowman to be seen in my yard.  When did life become such busyness, so much work and so little play? 

I decided to take the long way home, just to get out and about a little. The animals have started moving about more, large herds of deer and flocks of turkeys crossing the fields and feeding even right up near the road.  Traveling the back roads took me around an Amishman, long gray beard flowing over his shoulder as he rattled along in a tiny cart pulled by a fractious horse; past snow-draped fields with the remnants of cornstalks showing, half-frozen creeks, gray silos standing guard over red barns and rutted lanes, and critters everywhere.  On just that one trip home I saw over 200 deer, 150 turkeys, 6 hawks, and one bald eagle.  It was warm enough, at 34 degrees, for a native Michigander to ride around with the window down, and I could smell the wet mud scent under the cold, soft scent of the snow, and hear the truck tires swush on the gravel road.  The roads were deserted enough that I could come to a full stop in the middle of the road and stare at the eagle circling overhead.

I was still restless when I got home, so I took the old dawg out for a walk, which is always fun, but never more so when there's snow to play in.  The number of tracks we saw were amazing - deer, turkeys, rabbits, coon, somebody's undersnow tunnel, and some I couldn't identify - and it was clear, given the dawg's reaction, that each trail of prints left an equal trail of scent.

So the the sun finally tumbled below the horizon, the temperature dipped, and it was time to go inside and light the fire and relax in my chair.  The happy, large, hairy, muddy dawg sprawled on the floor in utter disregard for my carpet.  Ah well, a happy pet is worth some carpet cleaning, right?


Even the bits of snow thrown up by the plow leave delicate little tracks.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New Year, Same Life

It's been a long time since I posted; not for lack of anything to say but for lack of time. It has been four weeks or so of head colds, broken down vehicles, power outages, and so on. It seems as though life has become a pattern of lurching from crisis to crisis, like crossing a stream by hopping from one wobbly rock to the next.

Christmastime was good; it truly is the most wonderful time of the year for me. Not only for the celebration of the Savior's birth, but also for the time spent with family. Two whole weeks off from work, Daughter is out of school, and evenings are spent doing jigsaw puzzles by light of the Christmas tree with a roaring fire in the fireplace and the dawg sprawled out on the floor, snoring. We have had very little snow so far this winter, in fact when we headed in to town for the Christmas Eve church service it was rainy and dismal. After an hour or so of singing the wonderful age-old hymns, and hearing once again the verses from Luke Chapter 2, we came outside to a world transformed. The rain had become a story-book Christmas snow, gently drifting down, soft white flakes covering everything like a benediction. It was late, and the town was quiet, lit only by few street lights and Christmas decorations shining from front porches.

New Year's Day usually passes quietly for us, but this year we had a group of friends over for dinner and games. I experimented with a recipe for a home-made scrub and passed out some jars of it; so far it's had good reviews. I reviewed a lot of ideas from the internet, mixed and matched a little, and added my own touches. It was easy to mix with my wonderful Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Here is what I came up with:

3 cups brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups jojoba oil
5 vanilla beans chopped fine
2 tablespoons honey
1 ½ teaspoon lemon essential oil

I put the dry ingredients in the bowl and used the wire whip on my mixer to break up any lumps and then added the liquids. I kept the mixer on setting 3 and used a spatula to keep pushing the mixture back down in the bowl. Some of the measurements are approximate, your mileage may vary. Adjust the ratios until you get the consistency you want. I have no idea on the shelf life, though the honey should help keep it stable for a while. Making the scrub was sort of a last minute thing so I was limited as far as packaging it; next time I'll use more ribbons and try to find some cute little wooden spoons to go with it.
Unfortunately those two weeks always pass much too quickly and it's back to reality. Work, school, and dealing with half-done projects, vehicles that seem to break down again as soon as they're home from the mechanic's, and the overwhelming effort of applying for financial aid and scholarships for Daughter's dream of attending college this Fall. On the plus side this is the time of year when the nights are clear and cold, with the stars close and bright and Orion standing guard outside my living room windows.  It's also the time when I get the payoff from all the planting, harvesting, and preserving work I've done. I know that Daughter and I are enjoying wholesome food that is as free from chemicals and additives as I can possibly make it. There's enormous satisfaction in everything from home-made peach jam on my toast in the morning to quick dinners created from the jars of chicken, tomatoes, and vegetables in my pantry. 

And that makes it all worthwhile.

God bless you my friends.

Friday, December 21, 2012

May you live in interesting times...

I've read somewhere that wishing that on a person is a way of cursing them, of wishing them times of turmoil and trouble.We certainly seem to be in such a time, as a nation, and it's been a bit interesting around the homestead as well.  Nothing major or life changing, just the little things going wrong, or not getting done, that add up and cause trouble.

I leave my Christmas lights in my big spruce tree in my front yard all year long.  (Yes, I'm a Yankee Redneck Woman!)  But the tree is a good twenty-five feet tall, the lights are small, and can't be seen when not lit.  The tree has grown so tall that I can no longer reach the strands of lights in the uppermost branches.  So I simply leave them, and plug them in each Christmas.  This has worked well for years, but when I plugged the lights in a few weeks ago, none of them would light.  So, I spent the time and money and effort, running up and down the ladder, to put new lights in the tree, as high as I could possibly reach.  All was well until the high winds and heavy snows today; now only one strand is lit.

Today I wanted to bake Christmas cookies and went into the pantry only to discover that the mice got into the bags of dehydrated foods I put up earlier.  I hadn't been able to find any more two quart jars locally, and had intended to get to the city for some but hadn't made the trip because I have a tire with a slow leak that won't get that far but I haven't gotten it fixed yet. So now instead of baking cookies I get to empty and scrub my pantry and all of the contents.  I hate mice!!  Not sure yet how much food I've lost.  I had bought caulking and some extra mouse traps, but never found time to go around and seal whatever gaps I could find.

And so it goes.....certainly minor annoyances, compared to what others are suffering, but tiresome nonetheless.  Tuesday's event, though, was the most interesting.  I have my old pick up parked out front for sale, and wanted to start it up and run it for a while to keep it tuned.  The plug wires had gotten wet, so it didn't want to start right away.  A few more cranks of the starter, and and little pump of the accelerator, and.... BAM!!!!  Well I hopped out of that truck a heck of a lot faster than I had climbed in it, heart pounding, eyes wide, knees shaking.  I ran over to the front porch where Brother was standing, curled up on the steps and huddled down in my jacket.  For a moment I was the scared little girl that wanted to climb up in Daddy's arms.  Brother was no help, he was laughing so hard, though his eyes were a bit wide too.  He said he was able to actually see the shockwave from the blast.  At first I thought it was a rod blowing through the engine block, which would have ruined any resale value in the truck.  On second look, though, we saw what had really happened - the muffler had exploded.  And this isn't the little pansy muffler you see on a lot of vehicles; on these older Chevy trucks it's the size of a beer keg.  The sheet metal of the muffler ripped open with enormous force, slamming into the ground hard enough to make the truck crowhop.  I've never experienced anything quite like that and I don't wish to again.

Fortunately Brother was able to install a new set of spark plug wires, and he used a floor jack to press the warped metal back up off the ground.  I was able to start the truck and drive it around, but boy is it noisy now!  I guess I can either drop the price on the truck, or get a new muffler installed.

Today winter arrived with a vengeance, wind and snow and icy roads and closed schools.  I stayed inside.  The local FFA had their annual fruit sale a few weeks ago, so I had a bushel of citrus fruits to get canned.  I'd never done citrus before, and after laboriously hand-peeling the first couple of grapefruit, I decided it was a lot easier to use a knife and quarter them, then cut the fruit away from the peel.  Ten minutes in a hot water bath, and the jars are ready for the shelves.  That is, as soon as I fumigate the pantry.  Anyways, I think they look wonderful in the jars.

The wind is still howling around the house tonight, and the windows are frosted in the corners like a Christmas card.  Our Christmas tree is beautiful, scenting the air with pine, and scattering needles on the carpet.  As I sit here typing this I can hear the lids of my jars of fruit pinging as they seal.  Daughter is done with school until after the New Year, and all the after school events are cancelled due to the weather, so it's a rare treat to have her home on a Friday night. We don't have the cookies baked yet, but that's ok.  We're together, warm and cozy in our living room, dawg curled up next to my chair, and the tv is off.  All is peaceful in our little corner of the world for the moment.  And what more could I ask for?

I wish each of you joy and peace as we celebrate the birth of Our Savior.  Merry Christmas!

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"