Chill, Baby

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Henry surveying one of many pools in our yard

Henry surveying one of many pools in our yard

The January thaw couldn’t last, and we wouldn’t want that anyway. The snowshoe trail deteriorated to slush. Snow banked against the house melted down and down, and the driveway became an icy mess. In the midst of winter, the dog tracked mud into the house.

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Then came the cold. COLD. Night after night, temperatures dipped far below 0 degrees. We closed the curtains and covered the windows with blankets to keep the warmth in and the chill out. Day after day, with thermometer readings still below 0 and the wind chill colder, even Henry ventured outside only when absolutely necessary.

Cold, but beautiful

Cold, but beautiful

Today, unable to tolerate the confinement any longer, we strap on snowshoes and take to the woods. It’s cold, but we’re well bundled, and the trees protect us from the wind. We can’t keep up with Henry, who races ahead, then runs back to see what’s taking us so long. He’s a happy boy. By sunrise tomorrow, the wind chill will be minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but that’s tomorrow. Today, for a little while, we are free.

Are you coming?

Are you coming?

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Breakfast For Supper

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Our family loves pancakes. Whether a simple recipe or loaded with fruit and nuts, the aroma of pancakes cooking in the kitchen spreads cheer throughout the house. Breakfast is a great time to eat them, but supper always is best. That yummy, soothing sweetness brings comfort at the end of the day.

OK. We admit it. It’s not just the pancakes. It’s the toppings – sliced apples cooked in brown sugar and butter, tiny wild strawberries and whipped cream, applesauce, and possibly our favorite, warm apple cider sauce. Try it, and feel yourself relaxing.

APPLE CIDER SAUCE

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup butter

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In a saucepan, mix sugar, corn starch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in cider and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

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SWEDISH PANCAKES

3 eggs
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt

Beat eggs in a bowl. Add milk, melted butter and vanilla extract. Beat until blended. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Batter will be thin. Spoon small amount of batter onto oiled, heated griddle. Cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Flip and lightly brown other side.

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These are the pancakes we enjoy most, but your favorite recipe with apple cider sauce will be just as delicious. Happy cooking, and happy eating!

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A Spoonful of Sugar

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My Dear Aunt contracted polio when she was 11. She ran home from school one day, then never ran again. Unmarried until she was in her thirties and with no children of her own, she was a constant presence in the lives of her nieces and nephews.

Our "Dear Aunt" with my sister (2years) and me (6 months)

Our “Dear Aunt” with my sister (2 years) and me (6 months)

She took us to church, community events, swimming at the lake, and to the farm, where she lived with our grandparents.  She was enormous fun, but strict. She walked with a cane and said she couldn’t chase us, so she expected us to listen.

Whether she had one of us with her or five or six, we cousins knew that our time with her would include playing outside, board and card games, music and stories. We played rainy day games like Itty Bitty Bye… About So High, Button Button – Who’s Got the Button, and another game we called Comesy Come:

“Comesy Come.” “What do you come by?” “I come by silver.” “Is it the little knob on the radio over there?” “No. Guess again.”

She pounded out songs on the piano as we all marched around belting, “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” and other merry tunes. When the time came for chores – and there were always chores – she made the job a game, singing the role of Mary Poppins as we filled the woodbox and swept and dusted.

It seems natural that I remember her as I consider the task before me. My garden tools, some still covered with dried mud from their last wet day in the garden, need to be cleaned and put away. This important maintenance would have been enjoyable on a warm fall day. Now it’s cold, really cold, and this will be a messy inside job. Where’s the element of fun in that?

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I’ve always had some basic principles concerning my tools: Buy the best tools I can afford. Use the correct tool for the job. Keep tools reasonably clean and in good repair. All tools belong inside at night and never stay outside in the rain.

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A wire brush will remove the dirt from the metal surfaces, and I’ll use steel wool to scour away any rust. I’ll sharpen tools with cutting edges, including hoes and shovels, and lubricate the moving parts of pruners and loppers. Boiled linseed oil applied to the metal parts will help to prevent rust. Wooden handles will be wiped well, and I’ll smooth rough areas with sandpaper before rubbing them with boiled linseed oil.

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A bit of mulch on the tine of my favorite fork

These tools are my companions during long days in the gardens. The pleasure of giving them the good care they deserve is the only spoonful of sugar I need to get the job done. Next fall, however, I resolve to finish cleaning my tools before I turn off the water and put the hose away. Won’t that be sweet!

Fritz and Ollie

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Fritjof was the fiddler at the dance where he met Olive in the summer of 1928. They were both smitten. After courting only four weeks, Fritjof explained that with the potato harvest approaching, there would be no time to call on her. He asked the lovely Olive to marry him immediately, but not wanting to rush into it, she made Fritjof wait until August 24, two more weeks.

During their years together, Grampa kept journals. Every day he wrote a few sentences about hunting or fishing trips, rainfall and snowfall, who came for Sunday dinners and birthday parties, and what he and Grammie were canning from the garden. There he recorded the events of their days, so on December 2, 1986, after 58 years of a fine marriage, Grampa wrote only two words, “Olive died.”

Sometimes without intending to, we carry on the habits of our ancestors. So it happened that I began to record small significances – visits with friends, what I wore to school, thoughts and poems – on bits of paper and in notebooks. Later as a busy young mother, descriptions of our daily lives together were written on calendars, and each child had a book filled with precious first words and sweet sayings: “The maid was in the garden clanging out the hose. Along came a blackbird and sniffed off her nose!”

My record keeping these days is more disciplined. Planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting and other farm chores are documented in a day planner. A gardener’s journal contains similar information, along with records of plant varieties, diseases and insect pests, successes and challenges, and what grew where.

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So what advantages have I discovered as I’ve kept journals?

Prioritizing and Focus: The chores are endless and always will be. It’s all work that makes me happy, but it can be overwhelming without a plan. Creating a work list and checking jobs off as they are completed help me to accomplish more, even when inevitable interruptions change the course of my day.

Plant Identification: I wish I could always remember every plant’s name and variety, where I got it and when it was planted, but I can’t, and I don’t have to.

Buying Seeds: Records remind me what has grown well or tasted good to our family in the past and what we might not want to try again. Seed catalogs are delivered to my mailbox frequently at this time of year. If I want to add something to my wish list, tucking just the page containing the item and the ordering information into the journal reduces the clutter on my desk.

Tools and Equipment Purchases and Repairs: It’s helpful to know when and where I bought my tools, and who can help me fix them if I can’t do it myself.

The Fun Factor: Whenever I read about past seasons, there are moments of “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.” There are entries about hail storms peppering holes in the bean plants. An after supper visit with a neighbor and her children in the sandbox became the perfect end to a day. A moose sighting on the snowshoe trail with a new puppy provided an amusing memory. As this often too busy life claims my attention, how long would I remember these things?

In this season of giving, a garden journal for a friend or for yourself can become the gift of recorded accomplishments and memories – a tool and a treasure for the keeping of days.  

“Here, Mum. Here’s some flowers for ya with bugs in ‘um, but that’s OK. I squished ‘um. Smell ‘um, Mum!”

Protecting the Crown – A Bedtime Story

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Here at the farm, it’s finally time for bed. Fall has been long and warm, which has been helpful as we scurry to button up the house. Lack of consistently cold weather has delayed the last of our garden chores, however. Several hard freezes with temperatures falling to at least 25 degrees are needed before tucking in the perennials with their winter mulch.

Yields from our vegetable gardens surpassed all expectations this year. Our baby apple trees settled themselves into the orchard and thrived. The flowers and herbs in our window boxes grew enthusiastically, well into the fall. Pots of annuals were so gorgeous as we approached frosts, I wished for a heated sun room, so I could bring them all inside.

The greatest delight is the condition of the soil in the gardens. Instead of appearing depleted, having given its all to support such a bountiful harvest, the soil is soft and rich and ready to go again. Mulching gardens, trees and all my container plants with Premium Ground Cover has made all the difference. (www.PremiumGroundCover.com) 100% natural and heat-treated to kill weed seeds, this mix of chopped straw, timothy and alfalfa hay is nutrient rich, and my plants and soil love it.

As cold weather approached, Premium Ground Cover was my obvious choice for protecting strawberries and other perennials from winter stress. The purpose of mulching perennials, particularly newly planted, shallow rooted and marginally hardy perennials is not to keep them warm, but to keep them cold. During inevitable temperature fluctuations and periodic winter thaws, soil expands and contracts, heaving plants upward, exposing tender crowns and roots to drying winds and cold. Several inches of loose mulch applied to the soil late in the fall helps keep soil temperatures cold, conserves soil moisture and provides protection from the wind. Additionally, mulched soil warms more slowly in the spring, keeping plants from breaking dormancy during an early warm spell.

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Putting down the mulch is a pleasure. It’s soft and chopped short, so it stays where I want it and does not blow away, even in the stiff wind blowing on the day we put our gardens to bed. The recyclable plastic bag is easy to close, so unused mulch is neatly stored for later.

We’re ready for winter now, I suppose. Long days outside in the gardens will be replaced with shorter days on the snowshoe trails. Inside, we’ll be researching insect pests, studying seed catalogs, and dreaming about next year’s gardens.

Good night, everybody.

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Henry, king of the farm, inspecting the mulch.

A Bit of Geese and Quiet

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We hear them before we see them – that great honking choir on its way to somewhere else. Their voices are distant at first, then grow louder as they finally appear over the trees, over the fields. They fly overhead, sometimes so low we can hear the whoosh-whoosh rhythm of their wings. Our work pauses as we call to each other, “Listen! Geese! They’re coming!” We run to the house to announce the sighting to anyone inside. No one wants to miss it. The arrival of geese is always an event.

In great numbers or few, they call encouragingly to each other as their long lines stretch across the sky. Stragglers speed-fly to catch up, honk-honk-honking as the space between is closed. We stand in awe and watch, or run about when our trees or buildings block our view.

Often we don’t see them at all, but we hear the clamoring up the road and over the hill, where great flocks stop to rest in potato fields next to our neighbors’ home. As delighted with the company of geese as we are, Marilyn and Sam capture the wonder of it all with photos they share.

Photo by Marilyn Bailey

What must they think of us as we stare skyward, shielding our eyes from the sun? Why does the appearance of a single pair command the same attention as flocks of dozens or hundreds? How is it that we find the flight of geese so compelling, we stop everything to watch, even many times in a single day, day after day, week after week in this season, year after year?

If the miracle of migration won’t cause us to quiet ourselves and look up, what will?

Who Goes There?

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“Did you harvest the rest of the beets?” I asked my husband. With most of the carrots and parsnips and a few beets remaining in the garden, root crops were next on my chore list.

“I didn’t,” was Tim’s response. “I noticed they were gone when I composted the squash and pumpkin vines.”

“Maybe Dave pulled them,” I suggested, referring to America’s finest neighbor.  I hadn’t seen him, but he was welcome to help himself to whatever he wanted.

It was unexpectedly warm after several days of cold and rain, a good day for a harvest. The carrots came out of the ground easily, and soon a wheelbarrow was mounded. But when I neared the other end of the garden, the evidence was clear. Something had been eating my carrots! Where there should have been lush, green tops, intruders had feasted their way down the row. With mulched soil as soft as a loaf of good bread, the uninvited didn’t have to work very hard to tug up a lovely meal. Here and there was a chewed stub of carrot. That’s when I noticed the partially eaten beet. 

I’m grateful for an exceptional harvest this year. Certainly there have been challenges, like the night the raccoons raided the corn. All the corn. Every ear. Every single ear. But there has been plenty to eat, plenty to put by for the winter and plenty to give away. Certainly, I’d prefer not to share with the deer or skunks (or both) that enjoyed my beets and carrots, but as wildlife invasions go, it’s been a tolerable season. Not so for my friend, Shirley, whose garden, well-known in the animal kingdom, suffered a moose family take-out dinner party, among other adventures.

To all my four-legged and winged friends and foes, whatever you find in my winter compost pile is yours, and I promise, you’ll eat well.

The first wheelbarrow of carrots