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Archive for June, 2012

Before and after

Most days I feel as if I haven’t gotten much done. I seem to pick away at things here and there, and it’s hard to step back sometimes and see the bigger picture. Things are happening – even on 100-degree days.

The blackberries we pruned and retied this spring are producing like gangbusters.

Before

After

The daylilies I weeded are suffering in the heat, but at least the beds look a bit tidier.

Before

After

Much nicer!

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Bernie

We don’t get out much. Living with milk cows bookends a farmer’s day very neatly, so things like dinner and a movie can become out of the question.

However, we now have two relief milkers, one of whom came out Saturday night to milk so we could do dinner and a movie.

We chose Bernie. It’s a true Texan story about an assistant funeral director named Bernie. At times I laughed so hard I had to take my glasses off and dry my eyes. I will say no more and let the movie speak for itself.

If you only see one movie this year, make it Bernie.

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Crafty

I’m becoming craftier as I age.

No, not more cunning, more of a longing to work with needles and thread.

In March I made my first foray into doll making. Believe me, no one is more surprised by this development than I am. I got Tone Finnanger’s Crafting Springtime Gifts from our local library and a friend and I got together to make rabbits. I made a trio that were delivered on Easter as gifts for my mother and my two nieces.

These three girls were Easter presents.

I’m lucky that I have friends who share a willingness to try new things – branch out a bit from their more familiar arts. Last week we got together for another round of doll making. This time we made witches. I only made one, but I’m pleased with how she came out. Her wild mohair/merino hairdo is especially nice.

Newly finished witch sitting comfortably on a crafting shelf.

up close

Woolly mohair/merino hairdo.

One of my goals this summer is to finish many of my unfinished projects, so I was also happy to put the finishing touches on the rabbit doll I’d made for myself. Since March she’d been sitting with her unattached arms sitting rather forlornly in her lap. Not any more.

My rabbit

Finally finished!

Temperatures next week are supposed to top out near 100 degrees. I see more crafting in my future.

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Day of Honey

While bees here in the midwest, at the height of summer, swoop busily in and out of their hives carrying the the prizes they’ve claimed from the flowers they’ve found in the fields and my vegetable garden, I’m reading Day of Honey, a book about Lebanon and Iraq and their grasps at peace.

I haven’t devoured the book, as I often do when reading, but I am enjoying it. When I finish, I plan to tackle at least one of the recipes found in the back.

What author Annia Ciedzadlo does best is describe people and cities, but most importantly, she has the most vivid descriptions of food.

Day of Honey has been a very interesting story as many of the places she describes during war time are cropping up in newscasts again today.

It’s been a great summer read.

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Summer storm

Last summer was hot, humid and produced very little rain. The winter was mild, but there was very little snow. This spring has also been dry. All those seasons passing by with little rainfall has been a recipe for a drought.

Which means the two inches of rain that fell Saturday night were a blessing.
The skies grumbled for a long time before the rain came. We were both skeptical that we would get anything. Forecasts that have predicted a 90 percent chance of rain have found us on the 10 percent side that got nothing. We’ve tracked weather radar only to see storm cells split and go to the north and to the south, leaving us high and dry.

But this time, the skies kept their promise of rain. We finished chores just as the clouds opened up and dumped their load. Periodically we’d walk onto the porch or stand at a window just to prove to ourselves that it really was raining. It made for a lovely evening of reading and sewing.

When it finished, the dry, browned seed heads that stand on golden stalks in our pastures glowed a deep, burnt orange. The sky was bruised with purple, green, and gray. The rain gauge held two lovely inches of rain.

We are thankful, but we are still worried. That moisture won’t stick around long this week. Temperatures are forecasted to be in the mid-90s all week with plenty of wind to dry things out.

Still, everyone breathed a little easier Sunday morning. The grass looked a little greener, and the vegetables in the garden seemed to triple in size overnight.

I will spend part of today tying tomatoes that shot up a foot in the night. It’s a good job to have this summer.

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Say cheese

Many years ago we left the platform at LaPlata, Missouri, and headed east on an Amtrak train bound for Vermont. I had signed up for a cheesemaking workshop taught by Margaret Morris at a small sheep dairy there.

It was a great class and it gave me more confidence to try my hand at hard, aged cheeses.

What it didn’t give me, though, was more time.

So, one of my goals is to use the milk that Julia produces every day more effectively. I’m good about making butter and yogurt on a regular basis, but I’d let the art of making aged cheeses slip away from me last year.

Every week since school’s been out, I’ve fired up a double-boiler stock pot system so I can make cheese. I’ve scaled down my efforts a bit. Instead of trying to use five gallons at a time (for a five-pound wheel of cheese), I’m using two gallons at a time. The advantage is that the process goes a bit more quickly, and the pot of milk is definitely easier to deal with. Hoisting forty pounds of warm milk out of a hot bath is not an easy trick.

The process of heating the milk, adding culture, rennet, cutting the curd, stirring the curd and then molding the curd, takes about four hours in total. A lot of that time is spent stirring slowly and heating the milk by two degrees every five minutes. Not the type of thing you can just walk away from.

But, I’ve managed to produce three nice little wheels of a sweet smelling cheese. Once the rounds have been brined in a salted bath, and the rind has had a chance to air dry for a couple of days, I rub the cheese with a light coat of olive oil and set it into an old laboratory refrigerator set at 57 degrees.

Every week they get turned, and in two months I’ll cut one open to see how it’s turned out.

The recipe I’m using is a hybrid of one from Ricki Carroll’s book Home Cheesemaking and Margaret Morris’s The Cheesemaker’s Manual. Both are excellent resources.

Stirring the curd

Pressing the curd

Air drying the rind

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Going Thoreau

I did it.

I quit my job.

Friends, co-workers and my students have very gently and kindly referred to it as my “retirement.” I’ll be 45 this summer. Kind of young for retiring.

Retreating might be a better word.

Thanks to the brilliant students who walked through my classroom door for the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about how to teach, how to deconstruct and reconstruct a sentence, and how to deconstruct and reconstruct a story. Mostly, though, I learned a lot about myself.

One thing I know for sure, there’s a lot more to learn.

So here’s the plan: take care of what I have – my husband, my family, my farm, and myself. More specifically it means cooking better meals, spending more time with family, reversing the effects of five years of farm neglect, and writing. Writing religiously. Make it a job.

In the past two weeks we’ve gotten most of our hay put up, I’ve started a deep cleaning on the bedroom, and I’ve been making cheese. Today it will be another two-pound wheel of Monterey Jack.

I’ve also been writing. Religiously. Faithfully. Daily.

I have ideas for novels that have been floating around in my head for more than a decade. It’s high time they come to life. I have no idea if I’m doing it right, or even if I’m doing it well.

All I know is that I’m doing it.

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