Friday, July 30, 2010


Life isn't all sunshine and flowers. Accidents happen. Disease strikes. Pain, loss, and suffering are part of life, too, as everyone eventually must learn.

In 1986 I learned that lesson, when severe rheumatoid arthritis struck with vengeance. Over these 24 years RA has destroyed the joints in my hands, shoulders and feet.

Surgeons have patched me up with bits of metal and plastic, but ability to do the things I love diminishes progressively. I've had to give up woodcarving, gourd art, knitting, and a host of other creative outlets.

Now, with failing wrists, I'm ready to give up sewing, one of my favorite activities since I was 12 years old, as well as most gardening. I'm hanging on to cooking, though, with the help of gadgets, tools, and Dennis, who does all the heavy lifting.

In some important ways this disease has been a gift. It has taught me humility and compassion. Priorities have become clear. My appreciation for family, friends, and Nature has deepened. And, in spite of all the loss, there is still so much I can do and much I have to be thankful for.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Hunter-Gatherer Gene

From my mother's side, my brother and I inherited the hunter-gatherer gene. We can't resist gleaning from nature the gifts she offers. Holmes, for example, picks gallons of black cap raspberries that grow wild along the railroad tracks every July. We both love too hunt morel mushrooms in the spring and gather black walnuts in the fall. The gene runs stronger in him; he also hunts game and fishes - for food, not sport.

Years of living with me have imbued Dennis with some of hunter-gatherer spirit. On his way to the parking lot on Monday he took a short-cut across the Potter's Lake green space and came upon three large Dolgo crabapple trees, hanging heavy with ripe fruit. He pocketed several apples to show me and we ended up driving back to campus that evening to glean some of the fruit.

The next morning Dennis cut off the blossom and stem ends of the apples, put them in a kettle with plenty of water, and set them to cook. Ten minutes at a low boil and they were ready for the jelly bag. That strains out all solid particles so the jelly will be clear.

The juice is loaded with pectin, and quickly gels when cooked with sugar at high heat. I make this jelly as much for its ruby color as for its taste.

But sunlight falling through the jelly changes it to a different gem, one whose name I don't know.

We plan to give some of these jars away at Christmas. Drop a hint to get on the list. And if you hurry, you can glean some apples for yourself. The trees are still weighted down with fruit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wildlife at The Front Door

I don't sweep with a broom anymore because it hurts my wrists. Consequently, the entrance to our house has become festooned with cobwebs and dry leaves, and is inhabited by various forms of wildlife.

One day a few weeks ago hundreds of granddaddy-long-legs had hatched and were clambering about the cedar siding and limestone walls. Most of them left for greener pastures, but now a wolf spider has built an elaborate tunnel-shaped web. He lies in wait for his next meal. (See what I mean about festoons?)

A couple of weeks ago I bought a heuchera plant at Pine's and set it beside the stone step. It has been well-watered, but yeterday it was looking ill. When I picked up the pot for close examination, out hopped this fat toad.

Wow! (As Zander would say.) This same toad dug into a two-inch pot of rue last spring. How he has grown! I put some potting soil in the rust-colored pot in the top photo, hoping he will abandon the heuchera.

The big attraction for both of these critters is probably the porch light, which attracts insects, their natural prey.

I'm glad I can't sweep anymore. A well-swept life would be far less interesting.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Friendship Garden

The friendship garden, sometimes called a pass-along garden, is as old as our culture and probably much older. Most of the plants in my flower beds came from three friends, Barbara, Kathy, and Mary Lynn. Having benefited so many times from these friends' generosity, I was happy to arrange a hosta exchange yesterday between Kathy and Barbara.

Kathy has been giving away hosta plants whose shady habitat was destroyed when a huge tree fell across her front yard. I called Barbara, the hosta queen, who enthusiastically agreed to give some of the hostas a new home. Toad lilies were part of the adoption agreement.

Although they had never met before, Barb and Kathy quickly bonded over hostas, garden writers, politics, and the delicious Connecticut coffee cake Barb served.

Here's a small portion of Barb's park-like back yard. The new hostas will go in a friendship bed to the right of this photo.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Little Chickens Grow Up

Suddenly the little chickens are almost as big as the big chickens. It's time to call them pullets, the name for domestic hens under a year old. Here they are feasting on watermelon rind.

Some of the pullets have performed their rite of passage. This past week we began finding little brown eggs in the nests along with the big pale ones the old hens lay. These pullets are laying earlier than the old hens did. They are just a week shy of four months old.

Let's hear it for the little red hen!

Biscuits for Breakfast

The best days start with biscuits hot from the oven. Why more people don't make them, I don't know. A pan of biscuits is ready for the oven before the oven gets hot.

Here's a pan of biscuits ready to bake.

These biscuits are made with canola oil and hand formed. That's why they're so easy to make.


1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup cooking oil (canola, sunflower, even olive oil)
2/3 cup buttermilk.

Pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees.

Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk them together. Put the oil and buttermilk in a one-cup measure and, without stirring them together, pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Stir to incorporate the dry ingredients.

Pinch off a biscuit-size piece of dough and, using your fingers, shape it into a disk about 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Place the disk in an ungreased baking pan. Repeat until the dough is gone.

Bake for 15 minutes or so, depending on the size of your biscuits. Bigger ones take longer than little ones.

The original recipe called for rolling and cutting 12 biscuits from this amount of dough. That size is dinky. The rolling and cutting is not needed. Pauline, my sister-in-law, and I reminisced recently about our grandmothers hand forming biscuits. Pauline's grandma rolled the piece of dough between her palms to make a ball that she flattened.

Here they are, ready for butter and strawberry jam. I baked these for 17 minutes.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What The Heck

Last week I did some things I shouldn't have and blew out both wrists. Every time I bent a wrist, pain shot through it. Pain is a powerful deterrent so I did only essential things, such as brush my teeth.

The enforced idleness was boring until I remembered a new jigsaw puzzle waiting in the closet for just such an occasion. What the heck! I gave myself permission to play and rest.

The first part went quickly.

Then it mostly came down to a big red pot, a bigger orange pot, and a mess of greenery. Progress slowed.

Yesterday, just before supper, I placed the last piece. It was orange.

Why didn't I watch movies or read a book? Too passive. I needed the illusion of accomplishing something. Three days of rest have almost restored my wrists and that's the real accomplishment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Four Black Crows

Four black crows walked into our yard this afternoon. They strutted by the chicken yard like hoodlums asserting their presence in the neighborhood. The chickens looked askance, then went on pecking in the dirt.

The crows swaggered on as a loosely-organized group, checking out the garden area. As I watched out the living room window, a male suddenly mounted a female. It was over in seconds. The male sauntered away. The female ruffled her feathers, paused, and shook her head as if asking, "What hit me?"

I unintentionally interrupted the crows' tour by stepping outside with my camera. That was Annie's cue to chase the crows away, just to show me how much she cares.

They'll be back. They always come back.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Big Thunderstorm

We're having a huge, crashing thunderstorm. Such storms always remind me of one of my favorite childhood poems.

The Woodpecker

The woodpecker pecked out a little round hole
And made him a house in a telephone pole.
One day when I watched he poked out his head,
And he had on a hood and a collar of red.

When the streams of rain pour out of the sky,
And the sparkles of lightning go flashing by,
And the big, big sheets of thunder roll,
He can snuggle back in the telephone pole.

Elizabeth Roberts

This storm is more than welcome. The garden is dry, the flowerbeds are dry, everything is dry. We rejoice and snuggle back in our little house, watching nature's temper tantrum.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Elbow Room

We are busting out of our limited storage space. Only one car can be in the double garage. My potting bench takes up the other car space. The lawnmower and tiller are outside, covered with tarps. Tools are crammed into one side of the chicken house as well as in various garage spaces. The truck is parked by the wood pile in front of the house. You get the picture. Tacky.

We need a central place to keep the necessities of country life - truck, equipment, tools, potting stuff. Grant looked into various options. We finally contracted with an Esh builder to put a 24'X24' metal building in the southwest corner of the pasture. It hurt me to sacrifice part of the going-native area, but there's simply no where else to put an outbuilding.

Last Thursday a bulldozer built the gravel pad, driveway, and drainage channel. Construction of the building will begin in October. The building will be cream colored with antique red roof and trim.

This photo looks south toward the windbreak. The path from the house to the pasture passes through the red gate between two cedar trees. Only a few wildflowers were lost from this mostly grassy section. The grading stopped just short of where the best stands of grasses and forbs begins on the left.

Here's a link to the Esh website Our building will be much smaller than the ones on their homepage, but you can see the colors and type of construction.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rattlesnakes for Supper

The bush bean seeds I bought turned out to be pole beans. They just keep growing and vining, but produce no flowers. Desperate for fresh green beans, I raided the rattlesnake beans, which I grow for dried beans. They are also good as green beans, but are true "string beans," in that they have to be de-stringed.

They must be called rattlesnake beans because of the red mottling on the pods and the distinctive markings on the dried beans.

Raccoons raided our sweet corn just as the ears were maturing. Somehow those lazy critters know exactly when to check the corn. Dennis managed to salvage a few immature, but undamaged, ears.

The rattlesnakes became the basis for classic green beans almondine, somewhat altered by the addition of a minced shallot.

The corn ears were so long they wouldn't fit in the pot, so Dennis broke them in half. Seven minutes in boiling water and they were done, very tender, and sweet.

Dennis was, as always, pleased with our simple supper.

Afterward, we ate Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. I had chocolate syrup on mine. Dennis stuck with simplicity.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Walk on The Wild Side

This morning I could no longer resist viewing up close the golden blossoms in our pasture, so I suited up for action. (Suiting up involves copious amounts of Skin So Soft and sulfur powder on my body and generous sprays of Off on my jeans and long-sleeved shirt. I finish by donning Dennis' knee high rubber boots and a straw hat.)

I made a bee-line for the greyheaded coneflowers.

On the way I passed some rattlesnake masters.

And closed in on one of the seed heads.

Immature milkweed pods are beautiful, too.

But nothing currently blooming compares with Kansas gayfeather for dignified grandeur.

A late-blooming clump of black-eyed susans caught my eye. Most of the black-eyed susans have already finished blooming.

Other wildflowers in bloom are the scurfpea, purple prairie clover, and hoary vervain. But the heat was building, so I headed back to the house, passing a great spangled fritillary feeding on a coneflower on the way.

When we moved here in 1976 this pasture was nothing but brome grass. Dreaming of restoring the pasture to its native state, I gathered the seeds of native wildflowers and grasses from local prairie remnants and scattered the seeds over our pasture. Year after year I added more seeds and, when we had the leaky pond bulldozed, the soil conservation people arranged to have native prairie seeds drilled into the disturbed earth. Now the pasture is home to dozens of prairie forbes and grasses, and my dream is close to realization.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Swallowtail

After I posted pictures of tiger swallowtails yesterday, a black swallowtail showed up. The blacks are even more jittery than the tigers and I was lucky to get these shots. I also got a bunch of chigger bites from wading into the flowerbed.

While the tigers feed exclusively on the coneflowers, the blacks prefer phlox and tiger lilies.

Aren't the dots on the abdomen a nice design touch?

Today a mob of fritillary butterflies are feeding on the coneflowers, but I can't handle any more chigger bites just now.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


This morning six newly-emerged black swallowtail butterflies are feeding on the coneflowers. They are always in motion, making it hard to get good photos with my Canon Powershot. These photos show the markings better than others I took, but I'm not bragging about their quality.

Monday, July 12, 2010

It Was A Sunny Day

Many times I've stood in the sunshine in my garden and watched heavy thunderstorms pass along the Kaw Valley. Yesterday it happened again, providing a nice backdrop for the sunflowers.

Sometimes I like to get in a sunflower's face. A butterfly clinging to the petals is almost invisible in the bright light.

After observing the storm, I pulled the remaining shallots and a few dried bean pods. Shallots mature at different times, and I've been pulling the ones whose tops are turning brown for several days.

Last year I lost a third of the crop to rot because I hung them in bunches to dry. The thicker stems began to rot before they dried, infecting the bulbs. This year I'm through with the romantic idea of having bunches of allium family members hanging around. I'm back to the tried and true method of separating all the sections and spreading them on newspaper to dry.

Here they are putting the treadmill to good use.

Those in the foreground were harvested a week ago and have been through their first clean up. That involves removing outer skin until I reach a layer that doesn't have dirt under it. The tops will dry completely now and I'll pull them off before storage. I've been growing this variety for four years now. The original bulbs came from the grocery store, where I noticed they were beginning to sprout and decided to give them a home.

The dried bean pods are beautiful to me with their curvy shapes and mottled colors.

They are an heirloom dried-bean variety descriptively called Tiger's Eye. I grow them because they are beautiful, sure, but they have softer skins than most beans, which makes them more tender and digestible.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ephemera After The Rain

This tiny mushroom, growing alongside the garden hose, was one of many like it growing from straw mulch in the garden path. The almost transparent cap was less than half an inch in diameter. Do you suppose it opened like a tiny parasol?

A larger, more substantial mushroom appeared in the potato mulch. It was the only one of its kind.

They won't outlast the day.

Hi, I'm Sandwich Man

Here's my creator, Todd.

He later smothered me with ham and ATE me!

Looks a bit embarrassed about it, doesn't he?

Friday, July 9, 2010


This spring the Lodi apples bloomed, a biennial event we eagerly anticipate. The little green apple presaged bowls of golden applesauce on our table.

Lodi apples have only one use - applesauce. They are harvested just before they ripen, while they are still green. Ripe Lodi apples are tastless mush. The green ones are tart and bursting with apple flavor.

Typically, the apples are ready to pick the second or third week of June. They were a bit late this year and Dennis had picked several big buckets of apples shortly before the Reinking family arrived. Nancy has wanted to make applesauce with me for years, but her visits home haven't coincided with the apple harvest. This time, though, she honchoed the whole process.

First, the washing and cutting...

The cooking (sorry, no photo) and transfer to the strainer...

The straining...

And the finished product with a little sugar and cinnamon added...

Nancy kept a hand in all parts of the process, washed and cut apples, washed the pots and strainer, and took the photos. I mainly cooked the apples. Cleo ran the Squeezo strainer. On the second day Carol and Jennifer joined in cutting apples. Jennifer cut her finger, too. All seemed right with the world as we chatted and worked together, carrying on a tradition that my mother started decades ago.

Two cooking sessions yielded almost four gallons of applesauce. After the applesauce cooled, I ladled it into various recycled cartons, and Dennis took them to the freezer. The Squeezo is back on its shelf in the basement, at rest until the Lodi blooms again.