Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Favorite Way to Pass the Time

Jess Valentine...6 months old.

Marshall Dempsey...2-1/2 years old.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Garden Update

 I put my heart into everything I do, 
but sometimes that is not a good idea. 

Gardens can break your heart!

Remember those beautiful grapes I planted? MMM HMMM...

Apparently there is a moth that likes grape leaves. It lays eggs on the back. When the eggs hatch, the babies ravage the plant and leave it looking like this...

I was told it is called the Skeletonizer Moth. I don't feel like spending the time to verify that because that is a darn good name for it.
The good news is,  all three plants are coming out of it. Whew.

Everything came up beautifully in the raised bed, only to be half eaten by who-knows-what. I now suspect cutworms, grubs and gigantic grasshoppers. 

My neighbor, "Q", gave me some cuttings from three cactus plants. This was part from generosity (he is extremely generous) and part from wanting to use one of his man toys (of which he has many).

 WARNING: Do Not Sneak Up on This Man!

 One can be eaten raw or cooked. I am letting them scab before I plant them, 
otherwise they may rot. 

More than once, I have heard recently that, in gardening,  one should not be so arrogant as to expect every seed to produce, and every plant to bear fruit, and that you will be the one to eat it. There are a lot of hungry things out there that compete with you. They work when you sleep, they munch when you turn your back...

I replanted the raised bed.
 Only four cucumbers survived, along with two rows of beans. Now it is planted with spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce and -maybe- peas. I say "maybe" because the day after I planted, it looked like a little mouse dug a tiny hole above each pea to retrieve it. 

I knew there were kangaroo mice out there, but I didn't want to kill them. Now I know I must. Not because of the peas, but because of this guy...

He saw me first.
I must have startled him, because he kept hissing and shaking his rattle.

The mice attract rattlesnakes. I don't get too freaked out about snakes. But now that I have little ones, I can't stand by and admire them in my yard. 

Every time I see another setback in my desert gardening efforts, I try to remember not to be arrogant. I try not to get discouraged or feel defeat. Hope is important. 
She that hopes...receives.

My SIL, Gabby, gave me a little card that sums it up:

"Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow."  

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Flying Jack O Lantern

Walt and I had been at the  bass pond examining the work of the beavers that lived there. The pond was at the Cooley homestead, just up a winding dirt road on the property. It was late October, brown leaves crunched under foot. I was imagining my teeth aching from chewing the trees to make logs for a dam, glad not to be a beaver. Besides, I was a groundhog, and everybody knew it. (That's another story)
In just a few days it would be Halloween. 

We had been told the scariest story. I didn't really believe it, but I was a little worried. Thirty four years have passed now, so I don't remember really what I was told, but I do remember it was about the Flying Jack O Lantern. 

On Halloween night, it was said he flew through the air looking for... something. Was it his lost love? His body? Or was it children who weren't in bed? Whatever he was looking for, he searched from the flaming eyes of a fiery carved pumpkin.

Halloween came. I was a gypsy. This was an easy costume to assemble: one of mom's thin cotton tapestry skirts, a few bangles, bells and a red headscarf. Trick-or-treating was a bust. We walked far to get to houses only find no one there, or no one expected us. One house improvised and handed us each some dimes. We were grateful, because that is how we were raised.

Soon after we had gone to bed, there was a commotion. Mom hollered up to us, saying she thought she saw something out the window, and began thumping up the wooden stairs to our adjacent rooms. Suddenly a blazing face swept across the floor-to-ceiling window in my room! I was paralyzed with fright! 

Mom came running in and scooped me up. The Jack O Lantern swam in the blackness  back and forth in the windows in Walt's room. We all began running back and forth, screaming, half-laughing, and chasing it from room to room. 

After a few minutes of terror and excitement, the searching pumpkin head disappeared forever.

Anyone who has known me more than a year, knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I have no doubt that the Flying Jack O Lantern planted that seed! 

Kurt and I have enjoyed Halloween together these past 10 years....

2003 The Duke and Duchess of Death (my favorite)


2005 Banshee and Tree from the forest.
Kurt is on stilts, his face is barely visible in the leaves.


2007  Halloween, we carved pumpkins with Walt and his kids in West Virginia.

Kurt transformed Marshall's stroller into a coffin.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Banging Down the Bees

By the time we had spent a few months in New Hampshire, I had made peace with bees in general. It was explained that bees don't just ATTACK people unprovoked. Apparently, when my little friend from Florida wanted to show us how harmless her grandpa's bee hive was, and she flipped the lid off the top, that was called "provoking." 

There is still a vivid memory of mom's face with a look of terror as she flung open the door to see her two little ones screaming, being chased and stung by a swarm. She beat at her long, thick hair to kill the bees that tangled there as she rushed us inside. My brother and I shared a shivering, sniffling bath of baking soda as we examined our head-to-toe whelps.

At the Stone Farmhouse, old Bud Stone kept bees in his attic. I suppose it was as good a place as any to keep bees.  Their flight path was very high in the air, so there was not much contact with them. Plus, he could walk upstairs to easily harvest honey . I can recall a quart jar with a draining piece of honeycomb on the window sill in the kitchen, a bee suspended in the amber liquid. I waited as patiently as I could for a piece to chew on, enjoying the initial jolt of sweetness all the way to the soft, barely sweet, waxy gum. 

One day there was a lot of commotion. The adults had gone mad! Excited voices called everyone outside. They were under the attic window banging loudly on pots and pans. I couldn't imagine what it was all for at first, but then I felt the fat dark raindrops hitting my head. Bees were falling from the sky like rain. When they fell, they seemed disoriented and would roll around a little to get right again. The bees were confused and stumped...but that was the point. 

The banging kept them from organizing. A new queen had hatched and her followers were gathering in a nearby maple, wanting to form their own hive.  We banged and banged until a neighbor was able to come and remove the extra queen and provide a place for the bees to relocate.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gathering Mushrooms

 The drizzly rain softened the layers of fallen leaves, making the ground feel spongy and hollow. My chilly red nose was filled with the clean, refreshing  smell of rich black earth. Tromping around in the woods was high adventure. This day, we were looking for mushrooms around our New England homestead. We were not disappointed.  

High on the side of a sugar maple tree clung several large shell-shaped mushrooms. They looked like stair steps, perfect for a squirrel to use...if a squirrel needed steps. We pulled them down and examined them. One side was woody feeling and the other was soft. Mom showed me how to take a sharp twig and press it into the soft side to draw on it. We stood around making marks on the mushrooms until there was no drawing space left on them. These were not edible mushrooms, of course. I took some home to draw on later.

Further into our wooded walk we came upon a frilly log. It appeared frilly because it was covered with bright orange mushrooms.

These were called chicken mushrooms. 

Now, adults often think it is funny to tease a child with lies, so I was reluctant to believe this mushroom was really called a chicken mushroom.  Mom assured me it was so, and she always respectfully never teased. We put them in a sack and continued to explore.

Our final harvest was a mushroom that grew on another fallen mossy log. It was white and not as frilly as the chicken mushroom. It was an oyster mushroom.

On the way back from the walk I hadn't made my mind up to actually eat our harvest. This was like no other food I had ever eaten, or even seen. But mom knew me, and injected enthusiasm and adventure in the prospect of trying something new. I was primed and ready by the time we reached home.

We took our sack of chickens and oysters back to the farmhouse and spread them out on the enamel tabletop. A little time was spent brushing the mushrooms clean of rotted wood and slicing them to a uniform cooking size.

I loved helping to build the fires in the cast iron cook stove. It was a monster black beauty that heated quickly, but needed plenty of attention. There is a real art to cooking on one of these. We tossed the mushrooms in a hot black and buttered skillet where they sizzled and softened in no time.

If these mushrooms had not tasted better than anything I had eaten by the ripe old age of four, maybe I would have forgotten this experience. But they were delicious beyond description. I couldn't wait to go mushroom hunting again.

Sometimes I feel I should end every entry I make about our homesteading experience with three words..."Thank you, Mom."

where is everyone?