Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farm Charm

This week, Todd and I had a chance to visit a privately-owned farmhouse, built in the early 1900s. The farmhouse itself was small, white, and boxy, and no one had lived there for a long time. I was more interested in the surrounding area. I loved the weathered stone steps leading up to the sagging porch. I tried to imagine previous tenants - women in long skirts, men in stiff trousers - bounding up these very steps.

It was a beautiful day for a little exploring!

I found piles of weathered boards. What was their original purpose? Surely this board didn't say...brains?

Two old chicken coops still stood. I love old fashioned chicken wire windows. I saw a rabbit hutch, too, long empty.

Several buildings were missing some pretty essential parts...doors, walls, and roofs! The sunshine looked nice, streaming in.

An old bag of seed from a more recent year hung in one tiny shack.

I found a beautiful old walking stick with a delightfully twisted top. Although I've never used a walking stick, I like them. My great grandmother had several that were smoothly shaped and polished so that the wood glowed richly. They seemed too nice to be used!

Old farm equipment was still strewn about. This was a very industrious place at one time!

In an adjoining field, some considerate person erected a bird house. A quick peek inside told me that the occupant was out and about. A dense little nest was built there, with twigs and leaves and bright white feathers.

I saw several signs of the advancing season. This field weed is completely dry, just waiting for a nice brisk breeze to waft away its seeds.

This tree has been almost completely relieved of its fruit. A few dessicated apples hang on relentlessly. I bet this is a beautiful tree in the spring!

Despite the chill, a bit of life still stirs. A small plant flourishes in the rich soil tucked away in this tree stump.

A green vine clings stubbornly here.

A strange amoeba-like object has attached to this tree...

It completely covers this vine, an invasive species itself. I read recently that the "hairy" vines you sometimes see on trees are actually dormant poison ivy. You should never touch it, even if it appears dead! It can cause the same unpleasant effect as the lively green plant.

Wild berries are flourishing...

...while these oak leaves, crisp and brown, are ready for a long winter's nap. They'll make great compost.

I love to examine tree bark. This particular example seems almost reptilian.

I see shingles here!

The farmhouse owner called this fungus "Hog's Ear." It may sound strange, but I absolutely love tree fungus. It looks so otherworldly with its spiraling shelves and graduated colors.

Of course, lichen is a real favorite. I think it looks just like a lava flow.

Winter is definitely coming. These dripping icicles show that a freeze and thaw happened recently.

A puddle in a nearby field froze into whimsical whorls. It's like a very, very small ice skating rink. A fairyland.

Snow has collected in the pines...

...and on the ground.

I've finally got an excuse to wear my new mittens!

I found an insect gall on an oak tree in the front yard. Galls are really fascinating things. Insects burrow into the branch and emit a chemical that causes the wood to swell. The larvae develop inside the resulting ball. In oak trees, galls are typically caused by small wasps.

Speaking of wasps, a mud dauber left its telltale mark on this chicken wire door. Larvae develop in these "daubs" of mud, which are found on many structures.

A woodpecker has been here, leaving an almost unbelievably even line of small holes. Woodpeckers make these holes to look for insects, to mark their territory, or to excavate a nesting site.

Other birds have been working hard here, too. I saw several nests, tucked safely away.

I saw several loud, bossy blue jays. I was delighted, because while I grew up seeing them everywhere, I haven't seen one in the city where I live. Blue jays have a way of making their presence known, but all I've seen are dainty, polite martens and swallows.

It was nice to get away, because we've been quite busy at home. I've been packing orders for our eBay business, which always booms before the Christmas holiday season. Cooking, cleaning, and knitting have taken a sudden back seat...not necessarily in that order! It's a happy time, though, as we prepare to put up the Christmas tree and count our many blessings.

Here's to a productive week...with a great Christmas song soundtrack!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Every Day?

As the weather cools, I've been enjoying some minor scavenging in the yard. Plants that have wilted and dried still have their own quiet beauty, I've found.

This snail shell, its occupant long gone, waited patiently in the soil for discovery. Every ridge shows up nicely. It's quite a marvel of engineering!

Devoid of its weight, this wasp nest stem tosses in the breeze. It looks like a small, frail wine glass.

This ladybug provides a bright splash of color. It's unseasonably late for ladybugs, but it's been unusually warm until recently and a few are still hanging around.

I bring in more things from the outside. A walnut shell...

...and lots of pine cones. They're very cheerful in their little glass containers.

Some unusual leaves are collected, too, like this spotted one.

We've had a few frosts, too. Tiny ice crystals dot the tops of this wild ajuga plant like a fine dusting of sugar.

Frost collects, too, between the fronds of this plant. I love the frosty, chilly mornings we've had lately! I'm ready for snow.

With that in mind, I knit an interesting hat for a friend's son recently. It looks a bit like a chain mail helmet, which is good for playing dress-up. It has a very pleasing spiral top, too.

For me, the interest comes in the unusual construction. A small scarf is knitted into the base of the hat. It's ribbed, so it stretches easily...

So now he can wear the hat and the scarf can be tied around his neck, or tucked into the collar of his coat. I was quite pleased with it!

I've been doing a lot of baking lately. A old favorite, my favorite braided lemon bread, has been seen around the kitchen several times this past week!

I've been focused, though, on my green tomatoes. My windowsills are full of green Roma tomatoes that are slowly ripening in the sun.

Most of the cherry tomatoes, however, are just too immature to ripen that way. I had a lot of leftover cherry tomatoes...pounds of them. What to do? I hated to waste them. Thankfully, I found a wonderful recipe for no-sugar green tomato salsa. I was a little skeptical when I read the instructions, but I knew my husband would probably eat them, no matter what. He's never met a tomato he hasn't liked. Besides, anything was better than just tossing them in the compost.

I picked as many as I could...

...sliced them up...

...and got to work!

No-Sugar Green Tomato Salsa
Adapted from Farm Girl Fare

2 pounds of green tomatoes, chopped
1 pound of onions, chopped
1/2 pound tart apples, cored and chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
4 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 tablespoons dried cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine everything but the jalapenos, cumin, and cilantro in a large pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Next, add the remaining ingredients and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Using an immersion blender or, like me, a potato masher, blend (or smush) until at the desired texture.

It can be canned or frozen. It got rave reviews from my trusty taster!

A word to the wise: don't use your fingers to seed those jalapenos. I did, and the juice got under my nails and burned for hours. Also, touching your nose is a fairly bad idea, too.

Thanksgiving is coming up this week. I've been thinking about the holiday and what it means in a broader context. I've been pondering this Bible verse:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:18

I want to try to be thankful all the time, not just on a designated day, for my many blessings. I want to be thankful, too, even when "thankful" doesn't seem to be the normal response for a given situation.

I am reminded of Corrie ten Boom's book, "The Hiding Place". Corrie's family was a part of the Dutch underground during World War II. They were eventually discovered and sent off to the concentration camps, themselves, as punishment. Corrie lost her beloved father and suffered greatly in the terrible conditions. She was sent, with her sister, to one of the worst camps, Ravensbruck. 1400 women were in a building meant for 400. It was freezing cold, with a mud floor, and fleas tormented them day and night. Corrie and her sister had smuggled a small Bible into the camp, and they contemplated this very verse. Corrie's sister struggled with the concept of being thankful in this particular setting, but Corrie reminded her that they must try to be thankful, even for the fleas! They gave thanks, and soon their blessing was revealed. The fleas were so bad that the guards refused to enter their area, and the ten Booms were able to start a small Bible study to provide comfort and hope to their fellow prisoners.

Examples like this make me want to be thankful every day...not just on Thanksgiving...for both my blessings and my trials. The next time I want to complain, I will think of this story, that verse, and this one:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

Many blessing to you and your family on this Thanksgiving week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feeling Soup-er

It seems like everyone's enjoying the crisp fall weather that's finally arrived in the Midwest. From this female fox squirrel, who's taking advantage of the bounty of seeds and nuts in our yard...
...to Bosewichte, who rolls with exuberance at every opportunity. Of course, he still takes time out...
...to stop and smell the flowers.

Clarence is still coming around for snacks every day. I've been worried about him being outside in winter weather, but Todd is going to build a small shelter for him so he'll have a place to curl up, just in case he gets too cold.

I've been watching the ginkgo tree across the street with particular interest. I look forward to this change every year. First, the leaves develop a slight golden edge.

Then, whole swatches become golden.

Finally, the whole tree is aflame.

Alas, it only lasts a few days. Today, most of the leaves are a soft, brilliant carpet beneath the tree.
This particular tree is a male. Female trees produce a small, round fruit that have a very pungent smell, especially when accidently squashed underfoot.

Speaking of underfoot...I really have to be careful when visiting the kittens now. They're incredibly active. They have great fun with each other now. Climbing...




...and the occasional ambush.

The kittens are seven weeks old now. It's really important to socialize them with humans, and several different ones, by this point. Kittens who associate positive feelings with human touch from an early age tend to be much friendlier adults. Thankfully, these little guys get lots of love from lots of people!

Any little scrap can provide entertainment for them.

They are so inquisitive, too!

So angelic-looking...but don't be fooled!

I've been knitting a lot lately, as the weather provides the perfect atmosphere. I've felt particularly restless here. I didn't feel like knitting more mittens or hats. I didn't want to start on a sweater or another pair of socks. I decided to dig into my knitting binder for some seasonal motivation, and found this great idea. Tiny stockings to string on your Christmas tree, or even for an advent calendar. You can slip a small piece of candy and a note in each one, to be retrieved each day in December. What fun!

I made just one before realizing that I couldn't pull this together before December. I'll be working on it as time allows over the year, however, and hope to have an active sock advent calendar in 2011!

Meanwhile, I contemplated my sock yarn scrap stash. I've been collecting these mini-skeinlettes for months, through Ravelry swaps and outright purchases. They're about 10 grams each and I love the fiber and color variety.

I originally started collecting them for the purpose of starting a sock yarn blanket. Inspired by Shelly Kang's creation, I started stockpiling scraps. A blanket. Knit with size 2 needles. Sock yarn. Insanity? Perhaps, especially considering that each square takes 20 minutes to knit, and most blankets have around 500 squares.

Regardless, I'm diving in. My blanket contains seven squares, and I'm going to set a goal of knitting at least one square per day.

Todd has been sick with a terrible cold this past week. Of course, there's nothing better than a good home-cooked remedy. Fresh sourdough loaves...

...and the best homemade chicken soup! It's so easy to make, with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

What really makes it great is fresh sage, which I've harvested from my small kitchen garden. Dried sage will work too. Anyone can have good, homemade chicken soup in about 30 minutes!

Best-Ever Homemade Chicken Soup
Adapted from MissNezz, Food.com

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 (heaping) cup diced potatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme
7 - 8 sage leaves, chopped, or 3/4 teaspoon dried sage
56 ounces of chicken broth
2 cups chopped chicken, cooked
4 ounces egg noodles
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon
salt and pepper to taste

Saute carrots, onion, and potatoes in olive oil until slightly softened, about 10 minutes. Add spices, chicken broth, and bouillon, and bring to a boil. Then add chicken (to save time, I just cook 2 chicken breasts on my little grill) and egg noodles. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Top with a sprinkle of parsley.

Can't you almost taste it? It's so good, especially with homemade sourdough.

Perfect for chilly fall days. Enjoy!