Sleeping Beauty Gets Power Tools

Thanks to the miracle of 20 volt rechargeable lithium batteries, I now have my own weed whacker and hedge trimmer. It’s high time.  After 17 years in this house, the woods are reclaiming the property.   We’re close to the Sleeping Beauty scenario in which I (the Beauty) fall under a magic spell (my bed) and sleep for a hundred years (totally possible) waiting for the handsome prince (aka Maywood Man)  to hack through the enchanted forest to save me with True Love’s Kiss.

Yeah, well, I’m not exactly holding my breath here.  Thirty-five years of marriage has taught me that Maywood Man is going to spend the next 100 years fixing some tractor or other and never get around to hacking down the enchanted forest. If you don’t believe me, check out John Harp’s Ferguson tractor video, going positively viral on YouTube. (Or it will once my viral readership clicks on it! )

Meanwhile, next door, my 90-year-old mother-in-law can be heard weed whacking nearly every day.  If she can weed whack, I can weed whack. I just need the right tool.  Not one of those heart attacks on a stick…you know, the gas-powered model with a pull cord that was clearly invented by a guy trying to prove his manhood. No.  And not an electric one.  The yard is too big.  (That doesn’t stop Nana, though.  My father-in-law strings a bazillion extension cords together and she whacks all the way across the yard, somehow without whacking the cord into pieces.)

With a battery-powered weed whacker I can go all the way to the field and whack around the blueberry bushes.  It’s great! But giving me a power tool is a like giving a five-year old scissors….wow, the things to be cut! There is so much to cut that I soon realize I need power hedge trimmers.  A weed whacker can only do so much. Ah, now, with my own little girlie chain saw wanna-be, I’m like my mom with hair clippers.  Bzzz, buzz.  I begin with big slicing hacks.  Once I can see the trees, I can get a little more subtle.  Bzzz,  a little here.  Bzzz, a little there.

I think of our neighbor when we were growing up, Mr. Lapres.  Mr. Lapres was a real World War II  hero.  One of the famed Rangers of Point du Hoc, he lost a leg at D-Day.  But when I was a kid, he was a hero to my brothers by setting a stool in his driveway and buzz-cutting all the boys’ hair. He had 3 sons, I had 4 brothers, my cousins across the street had 3 boys. It was a veritable barbershop in his driveway.  He saved my brothers from my mom and the hair clippers.  Bald was not a fashion statement back then.  And bald spots will never be a fashion statement, I hope. Yeah, Mr. Lapres was a hero.

I am no Mr. Lapres.  I hack and whack and buzz until Mother Nature and  my body scream, “Stop already!”  I come inside for water.  My hands can barely hold the glass.  My arms rebel at bringing it to my mouth.  In this condition, I may starve to death.  A tractor drones in the distance.  I think I might just close my eyes for a bit.  And maybe my handsome prince will pick up all the debris I left in the yard.

http://daretodream.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c007f53ef01348491c7e2970c-pileeping beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Zzzzzzzzzz.

 

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The Ghosts of Vegetables Past

Giant Mutant Pumpkins.  The larger one still reigns on the front porch.  The smaller one has deflated.

Giant Mutant Pumpkins in their  glory.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

This is not a refrigerator story.  It’s a tribute to the dead mutant pumpkin on our  front porch …

…and a reflection on why white blobs embalmed in red liquid creep me out.pickled turnipsThe dead mutant is one of three giant pumpkins produced in the garden this year, grown from giant pumpkin seeds.  One of them–a white pumpkin– cracked and had to be cooked immediately.  As a result, I have many little bags of white pumpkin puree in the freezer. The dead mutant is number two, not quite making it until Halloween and definitely not making it into any pies.  The fate of the  third and Greatest Mutant Pumpkin is yet to be determined.

Now, as for the white blobs embalmed in red liquid…they are pickled turnips.  This is so completely not on my list of anything I have aspired to eat.  When Pioneer Man laid out his fall garden to include rows of turnips, I rolled my eyes.  I do not eat turnips.  I have never bought turnips. But God, with His Ultimate Sense of Humor, blessed the turnips above all other plants in the garden.  We have a bumper crop of turnips.

Pioneer Man is thrilled.

I am trying to overcome my childhood aversion to turnips.

I wasn’t traumatized by turnips, per se.  It’s just that my exposure to turnips came when a well-meaning adult—probably my paternal grandmother because I don’t recall my mother ever buying turnips– would hide them in a meal with the potatoes.  Cooked turnips, mashed, can hide with the potatoes, but they don’t taste like potatoes.  It’s a nasty trick.  The innocent child-mouth anticipates the creamy buttery goodness of mashed potatoes but is assaulted instead with the zippy tang of turnip.  It’s like telling your mouth you’re eating ice cream but tasting yogurt instead.

Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the flavor of a turnip.  I have to.  Pioneer Man keeps cooking them.  And they are tasty.  They have a zing reminiscent of radish and horse-radish.  I love radish and horseradish.  Tell my mouth to prepare for that zip and I’m all with you. But my childhood memory is still crying, “gack!”

Pickled turnips present their own problems.  They are pickled with a beet.  The beet turns the brine red.  When the red brine turns the white turnip red, the pickling is complete. Yeah, see, it’s the pickled beet thing.  And I am going to blame my mother for this one.

My mother was pregnant most of my childhood and she had her food cravings like any pregnant woman.  To this day, I’m not sure if my memories of what she ate back then reflected actual food preferences or pregnancy cravings.  At any rate, I have distinct memories of pickled beets and cottage cheese.  And the beet juice running around the plate dyeing the cottage cheese a  bloody red.  Who, besides my mother, wants to eat bloody cottage cheese?

I finally discovered the pleasure of fresh beets through a food co-op.  I never realized how wonderfully sweet beets are.  Ok, ok, I know they are sugar beets, but I didn’t believe it.  There is so little correlation in my mind between sugar beet and the thing on the plate with the bloody cottage cheese.

So now my husband is offering Wife I Am pickled turnips in beet brine.

I will not  eat them from that jar,

I will not eat them near or far,

I will not eat them here or there,

I will not eat them anywhere!

With trepidation, I taste one.

And, just like Sam I Am, I discover that they are good!  They would be a tasty appetizer with the oysters and sausages at Thanksgiving!  And I can see how fresh turnips would provide a nice zip to mashed potatoes…

But I promise–traditional mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Here’s how Pioneer Man pickled his turnips, based on how old buddy Sam Wahbe’s mother used to make hers:

Pickled Turnips

  • Fill 4 quart jars with peeled, sliced raw turnips
  • Add a couple of whole jalepenos to each jar…pierced with a fork
  • Add 1/4 of a raw beet to each jar
  • Fill each jar with brine.  Pioneer Man used 3.5 cups water, 1.25 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 T. sea salt.
  • Put lids on jars and let sit until the white turnips turn red, a couple of days.
  • Then enjoy and try to convince another family member to try them, too.

pickled turnip 1

Not to the Store Blackberry Sauce

Not a picture of blackberry sauce

Not a picture of blackberry sauce

I almost went to the store yesterday.
There is nothing unusual in almost going to the store. Many days I almost go to the store. Many more days I refuse to go to the store. I hate going to the store.
Yesterday, however, I had an urge to go to the grocery store. But I fought it.

It’s like that old adage about what to do when you feel like exercising? Lie down until the feeling passes.
So I did.

What’s my big deal about going to the store?
I’ve been trying to see what I can make with what I have on hand. But I got into recipe hunting and then enthused by recipes for cucumbers and for blackberries and thought, “Oh, I must go get these ingredients.”

Or not.

So, lying on my porch glider with Ipad perched on my belly, I continued to wander around cyberspace.

One of the wonders of the internet is the ability to plug in search terms for anything you could possibly want to find.
One of the skills of researching is to narrow the search to what you actually need to find.

Googling blackberry recipes yielded plenty of wonderful stuff. But I had two salmon steaks in the freezer. Does blackberry work with salmon? And this is where everyone in Washington State salmon country with overloaded blackberry bushes screamed, “Yes!”

I found a blackberry sauce to go on grilled salmon…and I had all the ingredients in the house!  I reworked the dinner menu: grilled salmon with wild Maywood blackberry sauce; Greek salad starring Maywood cucumber, tomato, and oregano; sliced polenta. The farm-to-table queen rules!

The recipe is from tasteofhome.com. It was for a cedar plank salmon with blackberry sauce. I don’t care for cedar plank grilling, so we skipped that part. I only had one cup of berries and it was just for the two of us, so I halved the sauce. We had plenty of sauce to pour lavishly over two pieces of fish, so I’m guessing we could have drizzled it over four pieces.

It was seriously delicious. I would show you a picture but we were too busy eating it.

Wild Blackberry Sauce
(Yields about one cup)

Mix the following in a food processor:

1 cup blackberries
1 tablespoon white wine (I donated some from my glass)
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon honey (Maywood honey, of course)
3/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco because it’s what was in the house)
pinch of salt and pepper

Strain the mixture through a sieve to get the blackberry seeds out. To the strained mixture add:

2 tablespoons chopped onion or shallot (I used red onion because I was out of shallot and the sauce is red anyway)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

That’s it. Just pour over hot grilled salmon.

And just so you know, I did go to the store today. I had to stock up at Wegman’s for an upcoming grandkid weekend and nearby Coldwater Creek, my favorite clothing store, was having a 90% off going out of business sale and it was my last chance to shop there ever.
Sigh. Now I really won’t want to go shopping because I have to find a new favorite store with clothes that fit. But I found some nice things real cheap, so I’ll have a few new things to pull out from now until long after the blackberries are gone.

In summer we gather, but we don’t gather chocolate

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

My daughter asked her two year old for dinner ideas because she was, yes, that desperate for help.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner?”
“Chocolate!”
If it were the middle of the hectic teaching year instead of the middle of summer, my daughter might have gone along with it.

Ah, but it is summer.

What I am loving about food planning right now is that it is based on what is growing at Maywood. (Or hereabouts!)  Instead of pondering all the choices of all the foods from all over the world that are all on display at Wegman’s, I start with the mound of produce on the counter and in the fridge.

It’s so much easier! Give me three little choices. I can handle that. Even a two year old can handle that.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner: zucchini, pickles, or roasted beets?”
And her answer will be, “Chocolate!”
(Ok, I made that up. Emily would totally eat any of the above, but we discovered Emily’s fixation with chocolate when she spied a closed box of fudge at our house.  She can’t read.  There were no pictures of candy on the box.  “Is that chocolate,” she asked.  “I looooove chocolate!”)

Emily looooves chocolate.

Emily looooves chocolate.

Admittedly, I will not be so optimistic about meal planning when my choices are limited to butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin, and I may be tempted to add chocolate to all of them, but for the moment we are eating really well.
Last night’s meal was as good a meal as one we experienced at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant on vacation recently. In fact, the search for gazpacho recipes came from a delightful Cucumber Pear Gazpacho that was served at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May.  The one I made is not their recipe and I would love to have it!  In the meantime, I will search and tweak.

Here’s what we ate last night:

First Course:

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Entree:

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

 Roasted Beet Salad with Feta,

Corn sautéed with White Wine, Dill and Lime.

Dessert:

 Fresh Blackberry Tart

The cucumbers and mint came from the garden. The pork was already in the freezer. The corn was leftover from a grandkid cook-out/bonfire the night before. And the beets (already roasted!) were from my daughter’s garden. I picked the blackberries in the back yard. My grocery run for that meal was for Greek yogurt and almonds, and I’m thinking I could have used the non-Greek yogurt I had on hand and maybe eliminated the almonds.

Summertime at Maywood brings out the little pioneer woman in me. John hunts and plants while I gather. I gather berries and gourds and then gather recipes online. Instead of scouring the limitless possibilities of “what should we eat?” I ponder “what do we have?” and “how should we eat it?” It’s so much fun to see the abundance of what we already have and make something of it.

And I delight in the time to do it. Once the hectic school year starts, if I do not have summer stored in a jar or a freezer bag, I am likely to join little Emily in eating chocolate for dinner.

Here’s the recipe for Cucumber Pear Gazpacho from Cookthink.com.

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched, unsalted almonds, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup water
3 medium cucumbers, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably 2%)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 mint leaves, sliced
1 Bartlett pear, diced

In a food processor (or blender), pulse the almonds, garlic and salt until finely ground.  Then add the water, cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, and all but 2 tablespoons of the pear.  Pulse until combined.  Top each bowl with diced pear. 

The gazpacho really needs to be served COLD. The leftovers I had the following day for lunch had the benefit of a good chill and blended flavors. So, even though it is quick to make, it is best not made at the last minute.
I bought non-fat plain Greek yogurt but had whole milk regular yogurt on hand. I might try that next time. The recipe called for almonds chopped in the blender. They chopped into a nice fine powder but still gave a gritty feel to the soup. I didn’t care for that, so I wonder about eliminating the almonds altogether or maybe substituting almond milk for the almonds and the water.
Who wants to experiment and get back to me on that?

I’m Gonna Get Squashed

On a fishing pier Saturday with my mom, watching the waves roll to shore beneath us, I said, “Pretend it’s a tsunami and you have to outrun it.”  Right. The great-grandmother to my grandkids had already walked close to twenty miles with me during our week at the beach. Running was not going to happen.

The garden tsunami beginsReturning home I encountered the first wave of our garden tsunami. Cucumbers. And yellow squash. And zucchini. With blossoms on the patty pans, acorn squash, butternut, watermelon and pumpkins.  My farmboy (oh, fahmboy!) husband loves to say, “As you wish” to his Princess Bride, but the profusion of squash plants in our garden is most definitely his wish.  His 100 x 100 foot fenced garden is about half filled with squash plants, including seeds from a ginormous pumpkin that promised to produce more ginormous pumpkins.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

When the blueberries ripened, I was pleased with the pacing of the harvest…just enough every day for us to eat. As the blueberries waned, the wild raspberries ripened. What a God treat to have the berries coming in delicate succession like that, like little waves lapping at our ankles.

Ah, but the squash. How to keep ahead of the tsunami of squash.  To be precise, what we have is a tsunami of cucurbits, or gourds.  Cucumbers and melons and summer squash and winter squash and pumpkins belong to the family of  cucurbits.  And here’s a little etymological tidbit to ponder while scooping the innards and adding fillings, dips, and soups: the word came into Middle English by way (of course!) of the Old French cucurbite which came from the Latin cucurbita, meaning gourd or cup.

So cucumbers are not squash.  They are cucurbits.

We picked four pickle cukes the day before vacation and immediately made two jars of pickles. One jar was gobbled on vacation and the other when we got home. But we came home to eight cukes plus about four that my in-laws saved for us with our mail. (That does not include the ones they ate while we were gone.)

Monday I began running to beat the tsunami.

The paletas are cucumber lime ginger popsicles.  They are amazingly good and just as amazingly simple to make. Daughter, grandboy and grandgirl joined me in sampling them.  There is enough ginger to provide grown-ups with a pleasant gustatory zip, but not so much to turn away a three year old and his one year old teething sister.  Follow the link above to the easy recipe at Bon Appetit.

The pickle recipe began with a refrigerator pickle recipe from Allrecipes.com, but after comparing a few recipes with ingredients I had on hand, I ended up with this. I share it here so that I will not lose it!

Refrigerator Pickles

The measurements for the brine make enough to cover 4 cups of pickles.  Adjust quantities according to the amount of cucumber you have.

  • 4 cups pickles, sliced in rounds or in spears, whatever you like
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Bring water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Let cool completely. (Pouring hot brine on the cucumbers will soften them a  bit.  We want crisp cucumbers!)

Fill quart size mason jars with cucumbers.  To each jar add:

  • 1 tablespoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • sprinkle of dried dill weed or sprigs of fresh dill (for effect!)

Pour cooled brine into each jar to cover cucumbers.  Put lids on.  Store in fridge 3 days  before eating.  Pickles keep 6 weeks in the fridge…if you don’t eat them first.20140723-143512.jpg

So, I have used up all the cucumbers… for the moment. Now to outrun the zucchini…

 

 

 

Berries and Bugs

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.  The bugs on those berries eat ME.  My competition for that fruit is the deer.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening. The bugs on those berries eat ME. My competition for that fruit is the deer.

It took a couple of weeks for the Japanese beetles to discover the blueberries. For those couple of weeks I blissfully picked a daily supply of berries, rejoicing in the amazing abundance of them. After three years of waiting, the bushes were loaded with fruit and every day or so just enough of them ripened just for me.

And then one day I spied a shimmering iridescent bug chomping on one of my berries. How dare he! He has all of Maywood to eat! Stay off my berries! And then I noticed them everywhere. On the wild grapes. On the coneflowers. On random weeds. Ok, they can have the weeds. And maybe even the wild grapes, which do not usually amount to much.

But the berry battle had begun.

What to do about the beetles? I know NOT to buy a Japanese beetle trap. Those bags on stakes just announce to the beetles where the party is. Sadly, the garden wisdom I encountered indicated the futility of trying to eradicate the pests. Effective beetle “management” involves disrupting their life cycle. Using milky spore to attack the larva can take three to five years. Oh my. And there is the dilemma of where to apply it. It is unrealistic to apply milky spore to all of Maywood.

Step one in disrupting the beetle life cycle is to prevent adult beetles from reproducing.  This requires menial labor.  This involves chemistry. This requires battle equipment. And a little bit of bug psychology.

The age old tried-and-true method for battling Japanese beetles is to individually plop them into a container of soapy water. It is so age old that half a century ago my husband’s grandparents (who bought Maywood in the first place ) used to send him outside to pick off the beetles. Yeah, the beetles have been here that long.

The chemistry involves the soap which breaks the surface tension of the water so that the beetles can not float on top of it. They sink and drown. Rather rapidly. The process is long enough to watch but not so long that it sucks the life out of your day.

That said, Mom and I wasted a few minutes of our lives staring into a plastic bowl of drowning beetles one evening. We would wish those moments back but it was such a special bonding moment.
Mom (staring at drowning beetles): I can’t believe we’re standing here doing this.
Me (head to head with Mom staring at drowning beetles): Yeah.

Right. So, I now carry two containers with me on my daily walk to the blueberries:

  • 1. My berry box–a lovely ceramic replica of a cardboard berry box, the kind that has been replaced by lidded plastic boxes that rip the skin off your fingers when you open them. I bought it at Anthropologie for $14 and it makes me happy.
  • A plastic tub from Wegman’s olive bar, empty now of olives but filled with water and a squirt of dish soap.

The best time to pick beetles is in the morning because they are slower then. (Kind of like me.). I don’t actually pick them. I sort of push them, holding the water under so they fall into it. However, if one is actively chomping a berry, flicking is a bit more effective. At each bush, I look for beetles first, because picking a berry will shake the beetle into flying away. I don’t want it to go away; I want it to die.

Killing the adult beetle hopefully prevents it from laying eggs at the base of the plant so that larva won’t emerge next spring. And it keeps the invaders from chomping on more berries. Beetles (like college students) tend to go where the popular party is, so diminishing the size of the blueberry party discourages other beetles from showing up. Tossing away the beetle-chomped berries minimizes the smell of party food which is so attractive to us all. Leaving dead beetle carcasses at the base of the plant may also be effective (dead bodies deter most party-goers), but I’d rather not risk a potential bug resuscitation.  Most importantly, one must show up regularly to pick off the trouble-makers.  Going away for the weekend is an open invitation to trouble.

In the battle for the berries, the one with the most berries wins. And for the moment that happens to be me.

 

Busy as…

images[5]With the school year heading into its final stretch, I’m feeling as busy as a bee.  And I’m feeling about as  productive as the honeybees in our yard.  Oh wait, we don’t have any honeybees in our yard.  The 44,000 bees we ordered from Georgia haven’t arrived yet.  We have carpenter bees in droves, doing their destructive thing and also dive-bombing me while I try to weed the gill-over-the-ground from snaking all over the oregano.  Between the carpenter bees and my limited flexibility (new hip #2 coming in a mere six weeks!), I didn’t get much weeding done this weekend.  I gave up the bending and pulling to sit in a sunny spot to watch Mr. Beekeeper clean the empty beehives with his new power washer.

After a good nap, I pondered lesson plans.  Ugh.  At this point in my career I should be on auto-pilot like a few teachers I know.  Alas, my ESL prep is new this year and requires actual thought.  And my juniors and seniors in French are heading into AP season, so my French IV-V lessons have to try to sync with the craziness of who’s in class on which day.  I try to accommodate them with a more or less self-paced unit, but they will try to whine and complain about their AP tests…which will activate my hyper-angry button.  They have been warned.  Someone tried to pull the AP card last week and I went ballistic.  You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom which normally is so full of laughter that the math teacher next door can’t imagine what is so funny about French class.

(Warning to pretty much anyone in my vicinity: don’t complain to me about anything.  My pain tolerance does not allow for whining. Exceptions are made for my pregnant daughters, especially the one who is teaching full time up until her due date while also moving into a new house the week of her spring concert.  She’s allowed to whine.)

I took a break from my meager attempt at lesson planning to get more familiar with my new school-issued iPad.  Teachers were given iPads in order to explore the possibilities of teaching via tablet.  Training is coming in the new school year.  For now, we’re supposed to figure the thing out.  “Just play with it,” we were told.

I started out very professionally, looking for word-processing apps and wondering if they were worth exploring.  Then I wandered into French apps and downloaded one freebie from a site that I regularly use online.  After that, I let the iPad inform me on new apps.  Well, the free app of the week was a clever little game called Bee Leader.  Since it was free, I downloaded it and got sucked into its little world.  I am pretty sure that my seven year old grandson would have caught on to it quicker, but I got the hang of it.  The goal is to collect as much pollen, nectar, honey, and  bee buddies as you can before the sun goes down..while also avoiding nasties like spiders, wasps, and little black rain clouds.  If you smash into little alarm clocks you gain more minutes in your day.   Maybe you only have to touch the alarm  clock to gain the minutes, but the way my bee was flying, everything got smashed.  He was buzzing through his day like a maniac.  I could relate.

I don’t really want to fly through this week like a maniac.  I’d rather be a calm, focused, productive little bee, intent on the task at hand. And, wow, I could really use some of those time stretching alarm clocks placed strategically throughout my day.  Is there an app for that?

Plodding and Stomping Toward Spring

The clocks are set forward and my sleep schedule is skewed.  The delight of coming home to hours of sunlight will not have me springing forward into my day.  I will be staying up too late for the next week and then feeling morose when the sunbeam that had finally started coming in my window to wake me delays its entrance until I’ve left the house.  Sigh.

But springtime is a time of optimism.  After the week of the no show snow-quester, the balmy weather this weekend was exhilarating.  It was a good weekend for getting outside.  If I hadn’t been conserving energy for an overnighter with our toddler granddaughter, I would have attacked the yard. Still, even with little Emily en route to our house, I couldn’t resist pulling out the rake and at least poking around the gardens.

The daffodils are popping up so I was sure I’d unrake some Spring.  I was on a search for chives.  Even though I need to replenish them this year, I’m still on the lookout for the first sprigs for my eggs.  Nothing yet.  They really don’t peek until St. Patrick’s Day, another week from now.  I raked their bed anyway.

Crocus.  If the daffodils are popping, shouldn’t the crocus be hiding under the leaves?   I raked the crocus/black-eyed susan bed and found nothing but dirt and some mole trails.  ACK!  Moles!!!  I thought that bed was safe because it is surrounded  by sidewalk.  Errrrgg.  Now I don’t know if they have totally destroyed the bed or if I’m just peeking early than usual because of the early daylight savings time and a balmy weekend.  It’s not officially spring yet.  The susans should not be up yet anyway, but have the moles destroyed the crocus?

In the fall, a colleague of mine gave me a mole “device.”  If I call it a mole killer, someone will get weepy over the poor little critters.  So I won’t call it a mole killer.  It’s a “device” for dealing with moles.  I will say, though, that the “device” looks like it was invented by Edward Scissorhands.  When I brought it home from school (It never entered the school, by the way.  We transferred the “device” to my car in the parking lot, although it could have been a very effective class management tool.)…anyway, I gave it very carefully to my husband who was ready to nonchalantly toss it into the outer mudroom.

Some people don’t know we have an “outer mudroom.”  They’ve seen the mudroom and thought that was bad enough.  The “outer mudroom” is the room beyond the mudroom door.  It is supposed to be the place to put the stuff that people who have garages store where the car is supposed to go.  Are you with me?  Because I’m getting lost–which is what happens to anything that goes into the “outer mudroom.”

John was about to toss the mole “device” into the outer mudroom when I started “talking” to him:

“You can’t throw that thing in there!!! It will cut someone’s hand off!”

So he put it in a  box.  And tossed the box into the outer mudroom.  I would not be able to find it today if my life depended on it.  He will claim that he knows exactly where it is.  But in case he doesn’t and something should happen to my husband and me, I’m hereby alerting dear grown children who would have to go through our possessions that there is a mole “device” in a box in the mudroom.  Somewhere.

We have another ten days until the official start of Spring.  Ten days for the crocus and chives to present themselves.  While I wait, I’ll stomp on mole trails and try to get Someone to activate a critter management plan.

The busy beekeeper tries to tuck the bees in for winter

Fondant for the bees

A twenty-five pound bag of sugar is empty in the kitchen.  Dinner was delayed because the stock pot of bubbling sugar water was taking up most of the stove space.  All of my pyrex casseroles are filled with sweets that we won’t be eating.  A five gallon bucket and a paint stirrer are coated with sugar syrup.  And there are splatters of syrup everywhere–on the counters, on the (freshly mopped) floor, on the floor mats,  even on my bee hat.

All the evidence points to John.  He’s been making fondant for the bees.

We did nothing to prepare the bees for a hurricane.  And nothing happened to them.  That’s partly because they are on a sheltered hillside and mainly because the storm pounded north of us.  Winter, however, has often hit the bees hard, so it is important to tuck them in for the season.

A nice day for playing with bees or just wandering around the yard

Today’s goal was to winterize the bees with insulation and to stock the hive with a store of fondant to eat throughout the barren winter months.  Only half the task got done.  Ironically, this November day was so warm that the bees were too active for John to wrap the hives.  At least the floor and ceiling of the hives got winterized and the fondant placed in the feeder box.

A piece of insulation board is fitted to the bottom hive box.  This will help protect the bees from cold air coming in underneath the hive.

Feeder boxes fitted with insulation

On top of the hive, John puts a feeder box.  It usually has a tray for sugar water, but for winter John removes the tray and fits the box with a piece of insulation.  This will protect the top of the hive from cold air.

John  places a big piece of fondant on top of the honey frames.  The insulated lid sits on top of it.

Fondant sits on top of the honey frames

Insulated lid goes on top

Later, when it’s colder and the bees are staying inside, John will insulate the outside of the hive too.

Alas, insulating the bees is akin to having the tractor in working order—it’s one of Murphy’s Laws that if we are prepared for winter, we won’t get one.

The tractor is running great at the moment.

Last week I got my first dose of winter on a day trip to New York City.  I can wait for snow.  For now, there’s plenty of autumn left to enjoy.  Apparently the bees think so, too.

In another month, I’ll be decorating with evergreens.

The lazy gardner: Drying hydrangeas in September

These were actually cut in August and abandoned (on purpose) in the music room.

If  I were a proper gardener, I would not be drying hydrangeas in September.  A proper gardener cuts blooms at their very peak, preferably in the morning of a beautiful dry sunny day.  For hydrangeas, that would be in late June or early July.  I know of one proper gardener who takes those perfect blooms and plops the stems into a bucket of anti-freeze.  The flowers soak up the anti-freeze and are preserved in their perfect summer state.  Or so I’m told.  I haven’t actually tried it.  A proper gardener also dead-heads spent blooms and trims the bushes back at the right time of year.  That would mean that hydrangeas in September should be cut back and absolutely, positively shorn of all their now-faded summer glory.

But I’m not a proper gardener.  I didn’t dead-head the blooms because they still had color in them.  They weren’t all black and crusty like the cone-flowers or black-eyed susans.  Plus it was hot.  When it’s hot, I’d rather sit on the porch beneath a circling fan and sip iced coffee (preferably laced with kahlua).  So forget about actually cutting back the overgrown bush.  Ack!  That would work up my sticky perspiring glow into an actual froth of sweat.

Overloaded hydrangea

So now it’s September and the cone-flowers and susans are looking ready for spooky Halloween centerpieces.  The hydrangea bushes look like they have been on steroids and plan to take over the planet.  There are actually little baby hydrangea bushes growing and I would love to (get my husband to) dig them up and plant them in other beds, but I have to trim the overgrowth to find them again.  (This I will do myself. If you have seen how he trimmed the lilacs, you would understand.)

Step one is to harvest the leftover blooms.  They are no longer the pure blue that inspires wedding bouquets.  They are turning like leaves into autumnal hues of purple and green.  They won’t go icky brown until after the first frost.  Now is the perfect time to just snip and decorate with them.  I cut the blossoms and arrange them right into the basket.  No water.   Nothin’.  I put the basket in the hallway.  Ta da. Done.  A week later the soft autumnal flowers are dried crispy but retain the same color.

Lest you think I am overly clever, I began drying hydrangeas by accident.  And often, if I am successful, it is because the magic drying fairy has taken pity on me.  The first time I dried hydrangeas, I cut some flowers, put them in water in a vase and put the vase in the music room.  And completely forgot about them.  Um…I do this a lot.  Some flowers don’t mind this.  I have a vase of pretty yellow roses from my orthopedic surgeon that dried quite nicely.  Usually, though, I end up with vases of dried twigs sitting in oogy water with goopy leaves.  The hydrangeas, however, looked great.  I decided after that to leave all the hyrangeas in their vases until dry–and I ended up with a lot of shriveled up hydrangeas.

After much trial and error, I have figured out some general principles to lazy hydrangea drying.

No direct sunlight in the hallway…a good place for drying.

  • Let them dry on the plant until they no longer have the original color, but before they look like toast.
  • Trim off all leaves.
  • Once inside, put the flowers in a dark room, out of sunlight.  This is where a log home is not only the perfect venue for showcasing dried flowers, but also to dry them.  With wood ceilings and surrounded by trees, it is dark inside.  My house has the perfect conditions for drying flowers.

This was a good blooming year. (Or should I go Brit and say “a bloomin’ good year”?)  I have baskets full of dried blooms to show for it.  But only because the flower fairy was nice to me.

These were cut a week ago and are now dry.