Friday, August 31, 2012

Bee Heavens

If you know where to look, you can see the sweet singers.

There are honey bees in the heavens.  Or--there are honey bees in heaven.  Or--we are in heaven when there are honey bees.  Or--my back patio is heaven.

The Porcelain Berry Vine that spans the timbers covering our back patio could be called "Humming Vine."  From mid June until September it strikes a single note, though a bit diffused.   If there is any tension or stress in the Things I get to do today, it is soothed away by the Honey Bee Chorus in C#

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Old Smokey

You know I have this fire thing.  Sometimes I wish I didn't.  Like when I put the pot of plums and onions on to simmer into lovely chutney while I chat with my daughter who lives in another town three hours away.  Well into the conversation I can smell it.  Fortunately, the only real fire is the gas flame of the kitchen stove.

Steel wool on the working end of the stick

The char was only 1/4" thick.  Another pot in the cupboard can be used to finish simmering the chutney while I set to scrubbing, chipping, clawing out the char. Amazing what Things I get to do today that were never on the list.

Black specks that I'm after don't show up in this shot.
 This portrait is for the "big stick."
Leverage is the kitchen tip here.  Makes all the difference.

Only "cinders" gripped the bottom of the pot and refused to come off.  Steel wool pads (the soapy, sticky kind) seemed to be the solution.  Hands and fingers that had been canning all day just didn't seem to be able to put enough grit behind the effort.  So I grabbed a big stick and muscled the black remnants of the careless smoking off the bottom of the pot, Teddy Roosevelt style.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hope. Despair. Ecstasy!

Free is a very good price.  Usually.  These apples were free, and I thought they would make a decent sauce.  I hoped they would.

Ugly, crushed, green--we put two full buckets
in the compost from the first five we gathered.
The tree belongs to my sister's neighbor.  It's an ancient old dame, spreading like a million giant broken spiders across the sky and shading hundreds of square feet of the earth. This year it was fecund and abundant beyond anything in past memory. Never sprayed, the tree's fruit began the thinning process early.  Small, medium and large apples dappled the ground and rolled down the street to become early sauce under the passing cars.  While picking up a few from the pavement yet uncrushed, I wiped one clean and took a bite.  H-m-mmm. Might be OK.

Cooking up the cut-off apples until they just start to
fall apart.

Five-gallon buckets were filled, carted home, and the process began.  Three quarters is the most you get with a "wind-fall."  The rest of the apple is brown moosh.  It takes time to cut off the salvageable part:  the price of free. There is some satisfaction in the making good out of something that otherwise would be compost.  Holding that glimmer as I cut was the most important of Things I get to do today.

The skins were green making the sauce much darker
than I considered "pretty."
Part way through the process, I took a lick of the still warm sauce.  Ugh.  It seemed tasteless and sour.  All this effort for something we may not even want to eat!  Before I continued, I thought a true test would be only fair. A bowel of sauce, a goodly amount of sugar (how much, you ask?  Until you feel guilty is my husband's response), and a spoon later and suddenly my whole being was alert and alive!  Could it be?  Could this unknown, ugly-at-its-best, free apple make sauce that tasted so good it nearly rivaled the yellow transparent sauce raved about in a previous post?

Used a 24-quart cooler to hold the sauce before stirring in
the sugar.  

Many buckets and boxes of apples later (these from the tree without the brown moosh stamped into the side), hours in the kitchen with my sister gamely cranking the sauce machine, friendly family chatter in abundance, and we were the richer by 62 quarts of superb sauce. Ecstasy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bee Crazy

A random "weed" fennel that was
allowed to carry on

Most of the showy flowers of summer have fled from the stage.  The honey bees were in love with many of them.  As my yard became less and less diverse in blooms, I wondered what the honey bees would do.

Missy Pollen Britches on the right is loaded to go

And then one morning quite early when Things I get to do today had taken me on a tour of the Northwest corner, I found that the fennel was all a-buzz.  A gentle, relaxing breath filled my body and found its release in knowing that those wonderfully resourceful honey bees will always know where to find nectar and pollen for their hive.

Breakfast is served!

The current bee favorites beyond the fennel are the gloriously generous flowers of rudebeckia and hardy geranium. Check your yard right now for fall flowers that bees love.  As long as we all grow a crazy variety of interesting plants and flowers, we will contribute to colony strength and order.  Bee (be) crazy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Do This Dipper

Rosemary chopped in blender and added to oil

Rosemary Olive Oil sends fresh bread straight to heaven.  It's been a few months since I've check the grocery store for this favorite and essential product, but last time I looked there was not one bottle to be had.

I usually make this in December.  Silly me.  Right now the Rosemary is lusciously perfect for oil.

The right amount of sizzle!

So Things I get to do today includes making my own.  This will work with any fresh herb that you want infused into the oil.  Simply add a couple of hands-full of the finely chopped herb to one liter of extra virgin olive oil.  Heat it on the stove until it bubbles and sizzles wildly. Take it off the heat immediately. Keep in mind that rosemary is very sturdy.  An herb like basil would scorch more quickly, so remove it from the heat as soon as it starts to sizzle.  Let it cool completely.  Strain, bottle, refrigerate and enjoy on salads, for sautéing and for dipping.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Old Guys Running

Old Guys Running
One person left before the picture was taken.

It's time these fellas got some international coverage.  Most Hood-to-Coast Relay teams are made up of folks in their 30's and 40's. A 30-year-old body knows how to do more things than a 50-year-old body can remember.  Old Guys Running is in the "super masters" category:  50 years old or better. Three of the guys are over 60, one nearly 70.

My hubby on one of his sections of
the relay.

Tops of the Things I get to do today is drive from Portland to the Pacific Ocean to help the team celebrate and fetch my husband, second oldest on the team.  He has run this relay every year since 2000.  He plans to do it for at least another two years.

Hood-to-Coast relay generates some interesting numbers. 1050 teams of 12 each: 12,600 runners. Each member runs three sections of the 199-mile-Mt. Hood-to-Seaside course--a total of about 16 miles. Two vans for each team:  2100 vans. Three volunteers for each team: 3150 volunteers. Teams from every state in the US. Teams from 37 other countries. In addition, there is a Portland-to-Coast walking relay of 500 teams, plus high school age category running Portland-to-Coast of 250 teams.  The rather small town of Seaside swells by 20,000 people on the last weekend of August every year.

So now it's rest and recover, which naturally takes an Old Guy a little longer.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Arusha in My Yard

Cannas in "downtown" Arusha, Tanzania 1998

It's been fourteen years.  Our time in Africa was short--three weeks--and the details of the trip fade a bit each year since that January in 1998.  But every summer toward the end of August, a bit of that continent comes to me, right here in my own front yard (and side yard and back yard, as well).

Tropicana Canna in Oregon
Tanzania is forever away from Oregon. The climate is hot, exotic, and wet half the year. The plants are nothing like those we are familiar with in the Pacific Northwest. I was totally captivated by their lushness, the intensity of the colors, the varieties and shapes and sizes.

We were giddy with excitement when back home we found cannas available at our local garden store. Elegant, gaudy, exotic like they just stepped off the African Continent, these cannas would grow in our own garden! And so they have. They've multiplied and been shared so that nearly everyone on our street has a bit of Arusha.  In the late afternoon, you can see them ignite with the blaze of the sun. For nearly a month Things I get to do today are powered by the fire of this African dream.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sunflower Seasons

Takes no detective to see that squirrels did the eating here.
They tend to chew up the whole flower

This year I don't hate him for cutting them down.  Last year a squirrel nipped the blossoms off  nearly all the sunflowers, some before they were even encircled in their sacred halo of golden petals.  To save seeds from a single, slender, pale yellow beauty took extreme vigilance on my part.

Blossom carried to the top of the woodshed
before being demolished 

So I retaliated early this spring.  All the saved seeds were tucked into rich potting soil, nurtured, loved.  As spring made her debut, three dozen seedlings were ready to take on the yard.  And all summer they've been glowing with exuberance and joy, along the street side, next to the neighbors, in the back garden.  There was no indication that the squirrels even saw the flowers--until three days ago.  A side branch on a hefty stalk was pulled off, its flowers all chewed and torn.

Sorry, but you were just too slow to catch the
chickadee feeding on this abundant head of seeds. 
Today the movement of gray fur on the top of the sunflower jerked my attention to it.  It's a strong flower that can support a fat squirrel.  I chuckled to myself.  This year the favorite pale yellow flowers are all over the yard, strong, sturdy, and vibrant, and I've already collected my seeds for next year.  The squirrel can duke it out with the chickadees for who takes the lion's share.  Catching a photo of both of them gobbling up the goodies will not be one of the Things I get to do today.
Empty faces scrubbed clean
by the quick stabs of
chickadee beaks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fruits of Neglect

Potato vines have all died back.  Only a green weed remains.

It ain't true.  You don't have to work hard to have a garden.  My potatoes are proof. Sitting on my laurels (on the ground) next to this neglected patch of earth, I chuckled to myself, and the hens chuck-chuckled, too.

Rake back the straw!

One Lazy Farmer here, on a day last spring when she had plenty of Things I get to do today already lined up, threw a pile of old alfalfa into a bed of earth.  She came back in a few minutes, made little holes in the hay, and tucked in sprouted potato chunks.

Lazy Farmer's yield from one plant

That was the end of the "work."  Five months of total neglect later, the Lazy Farmer scratches in the hay, looking for treasures in red and gold.  Eureka! Twenty five plus pounds of lazy potatoes lay snuggled in the beds.

ps.  Since harvest day, the hens have spent nearly every waking hour going through these beds with beak and claw to remove all bugs who thought they'd found a sweet home.  The Lazy Farmer, she smiles.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Born Again

"There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza. . ."

Baptism by fire can be part of it.  But once that part's done, I'm left to come up with a use for the damaged object. When there's a hole in the water can, at the very bottom, it cannot  carry water again. Plastic could probably be "welded" and repaired in some way, but Things I get to do today yielded another idea.

Jigsaw modified for a new life

A past post applauded a mulch scoop made from a milk jug.  I called it the perfect scoop.  A more careful review would have noted that it was flimsy and collapsed with pressure. So another scoop was creating itself shortly after.

Born again to a new and useful purpose

Now in it's new form, the previously holey water can is a most sturdy sort of scoop for mulch and soil amendment distribution.  A new life, rising not from ashes but from melted plastic, is ready to be of service.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dirty Old Hens

The best Things I get to do today usually involve my chickens. 

 A friend, new to her own flock, called recently to see if I put a pan of water out for my hens to hop into and flap around like birdies do in a birdbath.

It's been awhile since I've thought of the phrase "madder than a wet hen," but that certainly sums up what these gals think of taking a dip to cool off or get clean. 

 Just give me a well-scratched divot in the shade, and I'll show you a good bath was had by all.  

You might want to dust off your computer screen after viewing this blog.  Take a swipe at your keyboard, too, for good measure.

Monday, August 20, 2012


The first time I noticed it, I almost went weak-kneed.  It was so sweet, so perfect, so rich.  A single cane from the raspberries has created an archway over the gate.  That cane is loaded with berries in all stages of ripening.  They hang like finely detailed lanterns overhead as I enter the raspberry patch.

Could be painted on the edge of a tea cup!

The top two feet of the raspberry stalk is the most tender and least able to support itself. Add to that the fact that with the help of water and aspects related to chickens, the canes have grown to eight feet talk--most of them. Some are closer to ten.

Autumn Gold's need another week to get their glow.

So they arch over in a most inviting and cornucopian style.  Applying restraint to allow the berries to ripen--Things I get to do today.  Eat them whether they are ripe enough or not--Things I get to do today!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heat Crazy

While setting the sprinkler (hen AC), I nearly
planted my foot on this very unexpected egg!
Maybe it was because I carelessly "locked" the hens out from the nests one long day.  Or maybe they just decided to do the REAL Free Range Eggs thing.  Or perhaps they were inspired by the cute little Song Sparrow nest from last week's blog.  Or the heat has made us all a little daffy.

Things I get to do today, everyday this past week, have me providing extra measures to cool my hot hens.  I set sprinklers about in their yard to wet the ground.  Damp earth is cool earth.
Egg to the right (hard to see) about three feet from the clutch of eggs
 down in a hollow under these branches pruned from the Sequoia tree.
Such a perfect, cute, sheltered little nest! Felt guilty taking the eggs away.

I thought they were just sitting in the shade, panting.  But these girls are full of surprises. Everyday is an adventure.  And I think the heat has made them or me or both a little crazy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hot Hen Blues

Lena Horne Hen singing
"I'm so hot, and I'm dry on love."

My hens are pro blues singers.  Hot days bring out all their best.  Bra-h-a-a-a-a--a--a---a---a--a.  Talk about a sad and plaintive tale!  Oh, my!  I can't make out the words quite yet, but the tone of voice tells all.  "Ain't no man around.  I'm so hot, and I'm dry on love.  When will this love drought end?  I'm so hot, even when the sun is down.  Ain't no man around."

The girls are hot, probably not hot for a rooster, but with the temps at 100, they are hot.  Even on the perch at night, they're all splayed out, begging for a little cool under their wings.  They probably dream of running naked.  Shorts and tank tops for the humans; down coats for the chickens--not fair.

Did you ever?
OK to heat the outdoors

On such days Things I get to do today let me cook outside to preserve the bliss of our air conditioning.  The rice cooker plugs in and stays outside till the contents are cooked and cooled.  While assembling the rice, water and seasoning, I came across these instructions.  Dang!  It really is hot if I'm supposed to keep the bullion cubes cool after opening a cardboard box!  Bet there's a blues line for that one, too.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Slightest Breeze

Can almost see it moving here

Don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.  Bob Dylan said that.

Laid horizontal by a tiny puff

Mexican Feather Grass will tell you all you need to know about the wind.

Now golden in the sun

Things I get to do today on this hot afternoon surely include sitting back in the shade.

Prayers answered

As I pray for a bit of wind, the Feather Grass sends me hope, registering even the slightest breeze. And while it drifts, wafts, glides on a breath, my soul is soothed.  All is well.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What to My Wondering Eyes Should Appear!

A mass of spent canes forms a woven wall

I'm not a weaver.  Several of my friends are:  Kathe Todd-Hooker of Fine Fibre Press and Studio does exquisite tapestries.  Joanne from Cup On The Bus, has made an enormous number of rugs in her life time.  This morning in the intense sun I thought of them as the Things I get to do today brought me together with the marionberry vines.

Cane berries need to have the old vines removed and the growth sprung fresh this summer wound up in some order so one can pick what they fruit the next year.  Early seemed better than late to get this project over and done with since even the worst of weathermen could tell us all we were going to be sizzling this afternoon.

Song Sparrow nest

Removing the spent vines means heavy gloves and clippers.  Prickly work, it is quite simple to snip out sections of the vine, pull it away from the berry "tapestry", and toss it into the wheelbarrow.  And then, there it was!  An abandoned Song Sparrow nest sheltered and protected like Fort Knox by the serious armor of interwoven berry stalks sat in the shadows.

No alarmed mother had tried to get my attention to stop work.  I checked the energy of the egg for life.  None.  So slower now, more carefully, I continued the unravelling of the berry web.

Rewoven and ready

Sorting and untangling the 15 to 25 foot canes requires at times longer arms even than mine, but eventually they made sense and the weaving process began.  Over and under.  Over and under.  No fine threads, nor rags torn in strips, no changes of color.  The trellis is covered only with the same thorny canes--over and under until all the new growth is secured and supported for next year.

Maybe next year.

And under some of the newly interwoven stalks sits the nest.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

R I P Aunt Ruth

The view from Aunt Ruth's window--the birches, the knoll

Her wish came true.  A devout lover of Nature, all its beauty, its changing seasons and nuances and grandeur, Aunt Ruth wanted to be in the middle of it, connected by more than thought, surrounded, sustained, and soothed by it.

She quietly, sweetly, gracefully left her body March 4 at the age of 99.  She apologized for not making it to 100 and was surprised a bit the morning before her passing that she hadn't slipped away in the night as she had expected!  Goodness and grace right straight through to the end and beyond.

But she wanted to visit those gentle birch trees across that field who moods had entertained her year round--naked and black-branched against the snow,  fresh and bright in spring, green and fluttering in the summer wind, and brilliant with fall yellow.  And now her wish is granted.

July 28th her huge family, 8 children and all their children and all their children, plus nieces, nephews and friends made their way from the house, along the fence line and up the little hill.  Music as sweet as the summer breeze floated through the trees and down the knoll as each of her children took her/his turn with a scoop of ashes to be joined, finally, with the goodness of Nature.

  May she Rock In Peace!

Part of the Things I get to do today: watch this sacred ritual from the sidelines and remember the last stanza of "Thanatopsis" which fit her to perfection.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join that
Innumerable caravan which moves 
To that Mysterious Realm where each shall take 
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, as the quarry-slave, by night, 
Scourged to thy dungeon; but, sustain'd and soothed 
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
As one who wraps the drapery of his couch 
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.
William Cullen Bryant

"Mom's Mountain Salon" the plaque reads.