Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Was Attacked by Frosty the Snowman

Believe it or not, I was attacked by Frosty the Snowman. Well, not the whole, "all a livin'" Frosty, but a small piece of him. Snow, in the South, can cause all sorts of strange behaviors. We had tons of big, juicy, snowflakes that fell on well saturated, but not frozen ground and the natives went crazy for the 14 hours the snow lasted. We made snowmen, though they were quite dirty. The snow just wasn't deep enough to give full coverage to the just falling leaves and the rain saturated ground, but we made snowmen and have the pictures to prove it.

Anyway, a couple of days after The Big Snow, I started on my annual cookie baking fest by making dough. One of the recipes called for pecans. Since we have about 20 gallons of pecans in various freezers, I opened the freezer in the kitchen and started digging around to see if I had any in there (so I wouldn't have to walk to the shed), when, !#@BAM!#*%, Frosty hit me on the top of the head. All went black and stars were swirling.

After a few seconds, I recovered enough to look around to see what hit me, then I stormed out of the house to see who was responsible. Apparently one of my children thought it would be a good idea to store a miniature (12" tall) Frosty in the freezer until summer. Frosty and the plate on which he was sitting fell from the top part of the freezer and hit me right on the top of my head.

Can you believe Frosty would do such a thing?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

We've Met the Sugarplum Fairy

Nutcracker is over. Our 150 mile daily commutes are done. Four hour rehearsals are done. My late nights and early mornings are done. Sticky, hair gelled hands are done (until after Christmas). Believe it or not, I am experiencing a sense of loss. Loss of what, I don't know. Sanity?

After two months of extra rehearsals, a week of daily stagings and dress rehearsals, and six performances, what is apparent this week is how much Princess has matured. During past performances, I have been responsible for hair, makeup, and costume changes. This year Princess did her own makeup and costume changes. Though I pulled two backstage duty details and had to produce umpteen regulation ballet buns, complete with sticky gel and stinky hairspray, I got to watch from the audience a few times. I enjoyed my backstage time this year. I chatted with other mothers, laughed, knitted, and taught a few girls how to knit, with very little drama.

Of course, there was production drama - the Sugarplum Fairy was sick, the Chinese principal's new costume kept splitting when she did the tumbling pass and had to be redesigned after dress rehearsal, a theft occurred backstage, and Mother Ginger's Wig went AWOL. Yet, none of these mini-dramas were ours.

Princess had a wonderful time and she never forgot to say thank you for driving and waiting - not even once. She is old enough now to appreciate the sacrifices made on her behalf, and she does. That is indeed a good thing.

Now, I can begin Christmas preparations. I had plenty of opportunity to work on Christmas gifts while I was waiting, but there is still much to be done.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fire!

I think I mentioned once or twice that we have some rental property. We have one house less, today. We may have one cat more.

Yesterday, the children and I kept hearing sirens while doing school. Gawkers that we are, we had to run out onto the front porch to see what we could see. What we saw was smoke billowing over the hill. We realized it had to be our house. Obviously we went on full scale gawker alert. We got into the car and drove over there.

The house was old, made of heart pine. It didn't take long. By the time the two closest fire departments arrived, the house was fully engulfed. By the time we arrived the roof had already caved. Fire is amazing. Fire is powerful.

No one was hurt, not even the pets, but the tenant only got out with the clothes on his back. Mr. W. went home and got him a few items even though the renter and my husband aren't the same shape or height. I'm not sure what, but something.

I had the all-overs all day. I kept thinking about our tenant and how he lost everything. I just couldn't shake that "It doesn't take long" feeling. I checked the stove about ten times before we left for ballet. I made mental lists of which things needed to go first if we had a fire.

I checked the fire alarms.

I'm thankful for all the volunteer fire people and passersby who took time out of their day to keep the rest of our property safe.

I don't think our tenant took his kitten. Don't you think I need just one more?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hidden Picture

Can you find the pecans? Seriously, you can't walk without crunching one, but when you are harvesting you can't see them until you hear the crunch. When people come to the house, they rarely make it inside, not that I want anyone to see the mess. They stand in the yard, pick up pecans two by two and crack them, then eat - one of the pleasures of fall.

The chickens love them, too. As do the squirrels and crows.

Even so, we have collected bags full. We took one bag to the co-op and had it cracked. Now, every night we pick pecans, sitting on either side of a huge dishpan, competing, talking, thinking.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

This, That, and The Other

I hate to do this. I really like to post about one thing at a time, but I can't seem to find the time to post regularly. So here goes.

This.

I feel that having knowledge that a certain vice-presidential candidate didn't know that Africa was a continent, not a country (My children, who aren't old enough to vote, know that Africa is a continent and consists of many countries.), and not telling it until after the election is a mal-practice of journalism. The idea that Fox News would save this morsel until after the election is just plain telling. Yet, I suspect people who wanted to know, could guess the state of preparation from the Katie Couric interviews.

How demeaning to our intelligence and sense of right and wrong it is to try to play off a poser on the American people for the sake of a win. What a scary thing is this lack of knowledge especially if it is indicative of the state of education in America and America's curiosity about the world beyond our doorstep. How did we get to this place? Is she really an everywoman? The world is so global now that I find it difficult to imagine how you could leave school without a clear idea of continents and countries. And if you didn't have this base information, what would make you think it was appropriate to say yes. Was it ignorance or complete lack of respect for America?

That.

Jove, who has never lacked curiosity about anything, wanted more of my opinion about the bee decline. I don't think the decline is caused by one single thing. Insects, as are most animals, able to adapt to many stressers. Noticeable problems arise when there are a combination of stresses.

Jove asked specifically about the over harvest of honey and supplementing with high fructose corn syrup. I do believe, as I preached here, that commercializing bees and feeding substandard supplements is problematic. Dragging bees all over the country in 18-wheelers for commercial pollination just seems stressful, not just because the bees are separated from natural honey and fed cheap supplements, but because with the bees in such close proximity any disease, fungus, or mite can be easily transmitted. Any problems become noticeable quickly.

Add to commercialization of the pollination business, the use of genetically modified seeds, specifically corn that produces an insecticide in the pollen, and you create an additional decline. Yet, there is one other problem. The attempt to rid the nation of mosquitoes and other insects by broadcast spraying is devastating. Even in my rural county, a grant was sought and given for mosquito control. Instead of using the grant for education (emptying standing water, mosquito biting times, and effective larva control) they bought a sprayer and drove through the county roads spraying insecticide into the air. Because of lack of education about mosquito behavior, spraying started too early thereby killing bees that were still working and was rendered ineffective because it is impossible to spray the entire county from the road. Mosquitoes instead became immune to the chemicals and West Nile Virus was not reduced, yet bees were.

The Other.

I promised a book review of David Guterson's The Other back in the summer. Here it is.

When I first began reading this book, I was a bit disappointed. I thought it was nothing more than a thinly masked autobiography. You see I have read everything David Guterson has written including the homeschool book, so I knew he was a teacher (Countryman was a teacher), lived in the Northwest (the novel was set here as his others have been), and had other basic similarities of the character. I wasn't impressed because it seemed like a loosely tied journal purge.

But I kept reading. I kept reading to find that I could have been correct, but that the quality was hypnotic. I kept reading to struggle with questions of when to intervene if friends are damaging themselves. I kept reading to struggle with questions of hypocrisy, idealism, and worth. I kept reading because I was mesmerized. I had to know what happened to the Hermit of the Hoh in his attempt to live his convictions and how Neil mollified his conscience. I kept reading because the language was beautiful.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote!

I've voted. Here, there are no lines, few controversies, and no campaigning outside of the polling place. The only weirdness was that Roger Wicker, a Republican candidate for the Senate, printed out a sample ballot that made him appear to be a Democrat. I didn't get one, but they were around. I also got a text message that suggested that all Obama supporters should vote on Wednesday. Since Mississippi is sooo Republican, we are, for the most part, left to our devices. Thank goodness.

Anyway, I took my children to the polls. We voted for the environment, diplomacy, calm in the face of economic and military strife, and we voted for privacy. We voted for the best international representative for our country. We voted for the future.

Now, we wait to see how the rest of America voted. Go. Make your voice heard!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Boo!

I'll come back to the bee fun tomorrow because I have so much to say and y'all are giving me an excuse to drone on and on by asking questions.

But. . .

Today, we are going to a haunted house, and making popcorn balls and gingerbread cookies. Last night we carved the pumpkins. Then, K experimented with nighttime photography with some fiery results.

We had more time for experiments than the beginning of our day suggested. My hometown has a thing about changing holidays for convenience. At the beginning of the week, trick-or-treating was scheduled for Thursday night because of the football game on Friday. Thursday, early a.m., found me frantically trying to finish costumes and homemade treats. When I finished and delivered the payroll later in the day, I found that the school decided they would rather a few children miss the ballgame and not have the candy-crazed children in the classroom on Friday, so the town changed trick-or-treating to Friday. I agree. Let the parents handle the children drugged with artificial colors and flavors.

Yes, my natural foods obsession interferes with Halloween. I let the children go to a few houses for the fun of the see and be seen moments of Halloween costuming fun, but then they can trade their artificial candy for some non-toxic varieties. They may choose to eat a few yucky things and I let them, but honestly, my children choose natural treats most of the time because they just taste better.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Inquiring Minds

Zilla needs more information than I thought would be interesting in yesterday's post. Who knew that honey could be so fascinating? Nevertheless, here goes.

An Account of what I Know About Honey

Honey is the by-product of the bee's harvest of pollen and nectar so it stands to reason that the product would reflect the inputs. From a beekeeper's point of view there are two basic harvests, spring and fall. Spring/summer honey is generally a lighter color and has a lighter flavor (here is a picture of spring honey), whereas fall honey is darker and more strongly flavored (I'm looking for jar and will post it as soon as possible). Most commercial honey is either spring/summer honey or a mix of the two. Honey is graded for color and the lighter honey is always rated higher.

Some commercial and small farm honey claims to be clover honey or citrus honey and they may well be, but I've found that I can't really control where my bees forage. Perhaps I'm not trying hard enough. I've seen lavender honey and apple blossom honey advertised, but I remain skeptical. In order to achieve fair labeling, a bee keeper would have to add honey supers exactly when the blooming is the most prevalent species available and remove them immediately after pollination or when the blooms begin to wane. They would also have to know that the bees only sought nectar in that orchard or field and didn't go to the next field for a little basil, sunflower, or oak tree pollination. Managing all this is more than a little difficult. So I wouldn't pay extra for an exotic honey unless you have tasted it first and find the claims to be true. With all that nay-saying, I do have to say that I can taste subtle differences in honey. As we harvest frames, I can generally tell whether the honey is clover inspired or fruit tree inspired, but I have tasted a lot of honey over many years. As far as seasonal variances, you don't need acute taste buds. The differences are dramatic.

Now, natural medicine advocates say that if you have fall or spring allergies, take a teaspoon of local, raw honey from the season each day. So, if you are allergic to fall, take a teaspoon of fall honey each day and the following fall you should have fewer symptoms. Go find a local apiary, get some raw, wildflower honey, and be beealthy. You also get that feel good sensation for supporting a local, small farmer. Why does the honey have to be raw and local?

Raw honey is minimally processed - no heat and minimal filtering. As my brother says, "Give me some of that honey with the legs and wings in it." Honestly, you don't want bee parts in your honey, but you should try to find natural honey in its bee produced perfection. Finding local honey is just as important as finding raw honey, not for the carbon saved, but for the health benefits. If you live in Mississippi and you have spring allergies you aren't reacting to almond blossoms or California wildflower blossoms, you are reacting to pecan, oak, or Mississippi wildflowers. Dose accordingly.

Bon Appetit

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Honey Harvest

One of the things I've been doing when I haven't been writing is harvesting honey. Actually, we harvested about a month ago, but we returned some of the extracted comb to the hive for a fall flow. I know it doesn't seem logical to those of you who are already shivering, but we are in the prime of goldenrod and fall flower season. We'll slip these fall supers off at the end of November when the temperatures start dropping in earnest.

This last hive check will give us an idea of which hives will need a little extra help in winter and which hives have all the honey and pollen they need until the spring. We don't count individual bees, but we do like to have a general idea of bee population going into the winter. Once the weather turns cold, we won't pop the tops.

Anyway, honey harvest is a family production. There is a job for every person. Honey supers have to be removed, jars have to be sterilized, cappings have to be removed, the extractor has to be spun, comb honey has to be cut and jarred, and jars have to be filled and sealed. Our goal was to be finished in one day. We weren't, though we were incredibly more efficient.

Confession. I still have a pot of comb and cappings that need cleaning sitting on my kitchen cabinet. Perhaps today will be the day I tackle it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Goober Peas


Sittin' by the roadside
On a sunny day
Chattin' with my mess mates
Passin' time away
Lyin' in the shadows

Underneath the trees

Goodness, how delicious

Eatin' goober peas

Peas, peas, peas, peas

Eatin' goober peas

Peas, peas, peas, peas

Eatin' goober peas


Peanuts have been harvested in our area. The green, non-cured, peanuts are great for boiling and are an oh so delicious salty treat. Yum! Yum!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

No Excuses

Thanks to my little sister who called and suggested the pear entry was getting stale, Melanie for de-lurking to inspire me with all the nice things she says about me, and Zilla who is ever encouraging via email, I am finally posting something.

Something.

Just kidding. I'll give you a brief update on activities here, then I'll go into detail in separate posts.

We've harvested gallons of honey, driven countless miles to get Princess to ballet practice and Nutcracker rehearsals, and spent many hours schooling.

I've read several good books and a couple of not so good books, knitted a jacket, a vest, and have completed half of another sweater, and started on the madness that will be Christmas card season.

My husband has completed one two week trip and leaves for another two week trip Tuesday at 3 a.m. so herding AWOL cattle is beginning to be old hat.

This doesn't begin to paint an accurate picture, as there are a lot of funny stories and interesting tidbits embedded in this madness I like to call normal life. I'll try to be more regular. Maybe I need more fiber.

Friday, September 05, 2008

We've been inside for a few days



Though our area was a near miss for hurricane force winds, we have gotten rain, rain, and more rain. Last night, after I thought it was finished, we got even more rain. In other words, we have spent a good bit of time inside. The time was not wasted.

We made pear preserves.

Pear preserves are the most labor intensive of the fruit based canning I do, because you have to peel the pears, core the pears, then slice the pears before you can start cooking. Mississippi pears are not like the pears of the cooler climates. They are hard - hand cramping, claw producing hard. Peeling and coring are a labor of love. My husband helped peel since he was stuck in the house all weekend.

Once peeled, I run them through the food processor to slice them because I'm all about efficiency and uniformity of slices in the jar. In fact, I slip the end pieces in my mouth. Once sliced I sprinkle them with lemon juice so they won't turn brown before I get a chance to cook them.

Once the pears are peeled, cored and sliced you add sugar, lemon slices, and some water and cook. I find that the pears will get done before the syrup is thick, so I remove the pears at the end and cook the syrup longer until it is the color and consistency I like. Then, I return the pears to the syrup and make sure everything is hot before I put the preserves in jars.

Pears are a low acid food. Even though I use liberal amounts of sugar and lemon, care must be taken in the water bath or pressure cooking. By all means make sure you release all air bubbles and don't scrimp on the recommended times in the canning guides. You don't want to poison anyone.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Barracuda

Barracuda
dnshepard at webshots.com

  • Barracudas are fearless marine fish known for their fierceness and ambush style hunting. They lie in wait and catch their prey by surprise.
  • Barracudas have a large mouth filled with teeth that look like tiny daggers.
  • Great barracudas don't nurture their young.
  • Barracudas eat young barracudas.
  • Barracudas sometimes hunt in a group by herding small fish into shallow water.
  • Barracudas strike anything that moves.

With barracuda swimming around the Republican National Convention, McCain (There was a moment there that she got so excited, I think she forgot she was not the presidential nominee. Did you notice?) and the rest of the country should know the predator. Information is good. More information is better. Becky has great links, too, as usual.

I'll leave you with the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson's song Killer Barracuda which I got from here. You should hear Helen Reddy singing it.

Look into water, see the barracuda
Patient as the devil
Hanging still
Like a shadow in the water
Pretty barracuda,
Dagger of the devil
Waiting to kill

Little girl beware, of killer barracuda
He rules these waters like a king
He'll cut your heart out slicker than a dagger
Not 'cause he's hungry 'cause he's mean

You can see the shark now
Glidin' through the water
Ugly as death.
Eats anything
But the pretty barracuda, don't touch no leavins
Takin' what he wants to
'cause he's king
And you can't scare him or entice him
He won't move for the devil, 'til his own time
Then quicker than heartbeat
He'll turn you away girl just to
See you fall, and leave you dyin'

Little girl beware of the killer barracuda
He rules these waters like a king
He'll cut your heart out slicker than a dagger
Not 'cause he's hungry
'cause he's mean

Barracuda information provided by these fine sites.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Politickin'

McCain and Palin are coming to Mississippi to check on our preparations. What on earth? I just can't see what contribution they can make other than to slow traffic. If they really wanted to help they could go heave-ho some sandbags further south than Jackson or even go to Louisiana where the storm is scheduled to have the greatest impact.

Haley invited him. Funny, he didn't look like he needed any help overseeing preparations, but let's face it a hurricane is a great photo op. McCain isn't even subtle.

My parents are on their way here. Traffic is snarled.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

MEMA

I just watched a live message from MEMA on my television. I must say I was impressed. Mississippi has reacted strongly and started evacuations earlier than most even though the hurricane is not yet targeting our coast.

Anyway, yesterday Haley Barbour, our governor, began his talk with "This is not a time to panic, but is a time to get prepared." I like that, though I'm not particularly enamored with the man. People panic all to easily. Today, he suggested inviting all old college acquaintances, old preachers, teachers, and others you may have met in passing to stay at your home during the storm because "no government can take care of every need of every family or every business all the time." That is an amazing thing to say. Our dependence on the government, whether local or national, is crazy. To think a government can turn a hurricane, or fix everything after it has arrived is not logical. Individuals should take action instead of waiting around for someone else to fix everything.

This time Mississippi is moving together to create calm in the face of a storm. Evacuation is mandatory. Why? A lot of people on the coast are still living in temporary cottages, and Katrina trailers. Though the storm is not aimed toward Mississippi, a mobile home or temporary cottage in a low lying area is destined for destruction even in a Cat 1 Hurricane. Shelters are open already. The National Guard is going door to door to assist in evacuation. Sure, as the governor said, the government can't take care of every need, but being prepared and being insistent in the face of danger is leadership in the right direction.

My parents and brother will be boarding up and closing down their properties on the Mississippi and Alabama coast tomorrow.

Better safe, than sorry.

I May Be Ready to Start a Full Scale Panic

Gustav is now a Cat 4. I've begun to think about the possibility of having a stretch of bad weather, though Mississippi probably won't have a direct hit. We will just get more rain, chance of tornadoes, and some wind. We are far enough away from the coast to feel safe unless there is a direct Mississippi hit.

Baton Rogue, Houma, and all the little towns on the coast of Louisiana look as if they will bear the brunt of this one if it doesn't dissipate. Unfortunately, I don't think there is even a possibility for it blow itself out before it hits Cuba.

Cuba will get a terrible, terrible, terrible storm. I feel just awful for them. A Cat 4 is devastating.

Yellow Dog Books

Do you remember last month when I posted about the providence of finding Yellow Dog Books? I was thrilled to "have to" go to Madison, rather than Jackson for ballet simply because I knew I could walk across the street to this wonderfully personal bookstore.

Mr. W even bought me a gift card for my birthday, so I could shop without guilt.

They are closing.

They just didn't have enough business to merit hiring help, and 70 to 80 hour weeks were draining the retirement age father and mother of two small children daughter. Barnes and Noble moved a few miles from them at the beginning of the summer. I don't know if sales dropped, but I do know it couldn't have helped.

I hate that. I hate that BN advertises discounts on bestsellers creating the illusion that all books are discounted when they aren't. I hate that the perception of quantity and discounts moves us to shop, rather than quality of service shown in carefully selected titles and personal greetings.

I am so disappointed that I can barely enter the store to shop their 20-60% off every book in the store closing sale. The closing is just too depressing.

Okay, perhaps I have been able to purchase a few books.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Reconnected (Part 2)

Ever so much happened while I was unable to write. In fact I may have to write a few times a day for a while just to keep you current.

One of the biggest things for our family is that we did connect. Let me explain.

When we first moved to the hill, we bought a television antenna, but were stymied about how and where to attach it to this old house. It just didn't seem to fit and so many other things needed doing that the antenna was hoisted to the rafters of the tractor shed (now, bio-diesel shed) and forgotten for three years while we repaired fences, the roof, and cleaned up after Katrina.

As the opening ceremonies for the Olympics were being telecast, my children were sullen. "The Olympics are every four years and everybody is watching." When we went to town people kept asking, "Did you watch the ceremonies?", "Have you seen the gymnastics?", and other choice questions. My lovely children, with pitiful faces, always said the same thing, "We don't have TV. Mom doesn't like it." At this point all eyes would turn toward me. True, I hadn't missed the television, but I had never banished it, or withheld defining moments from my children. In fact, we owned an antenna. All someone had to do was install it. Since no one made an effort and I was perfectly happy without television service, I was made into the fall guy.

Neither child noticed that there was another party involved. In fact, that other party frequently made me into the fall guy, while complaining about not being able to watch sports.

Anyway.

Since the Olympics seemed so important to everyone, I suggested that since we used to have satellite internet service (before the phone company convinced me I would have better service with them) and the cable was still running from that ugly pole, hidden from view by a tree, to the house, that someone could erect the antenna in that pole. K, the action man that he is, dragged down the antenna and began assembling the unwieldy contraption. Mr. W brought home an enormous iron pole, pushed the pole into place with the help of a neighbor, fastened some wires, and like magic . . . .

We were connected to the rest of the world.

The first thing we saw was Michael Phelps swim. Every night for the remaining week and a half, we turned on the television and watched, savoring that connection to others who might be sharing the moment.

This week we watched the Democratic Convention - savoring well-chosen words and energy.

I am reconnected

I've been in a period of annoyingly intermittent phone/internet service that made it difficult to post, respond, and talk on the phone. Technically, I had phone service, but the static on the line would get so bad I would temporarily hear a dial tone rather than the caller. If the caller didn't hang up, we would eventually reconnect. DSL internet relies on static-free lines, so surfing was out. Work was out. Posting was out.

Finally, the problem, deteriorating phone lines that have been patched and will continue to be patched until there is not enough cable to meet in the middle, has been found. My truly nice phone serviceman revealed that, according to the company, replacing my line is cost prohibitive and that once the line ceases to function properly they will encourage me to lose my land line and rely on cell service for both phone and internet.

Living at the end of the line has some serious down sides.Funny thing is, I'm not that far back in the country. I am on a paved road. I'm just the last phone on this line.

Mississippi is battening down the hatches in the face of Gustav, though he seems to be a non threat at this point. I think listening to the panic stricken commentators on the weather channel who want a catastrophic storm so they'll have something to report has seriously tampered with the sensibilities of normally calm people. Hotels are booked solid. No batteries remain on the shelves. Generators are being purchased. Gas is being horded. Panic is ensuing.

I'll probably lose my newly repaired phone service in the storm (gale force winds aren't necessary for that), but this is not a Katrina like storm. I'll move my car and secure my poultry when the Tropical Depression Gustave becomes a hurricane and is heading this way.

Do you capitalize internet? I'm not sure it is a proper noun anymore. Blogger spell-checker wants it capitalized, but how can you trust a spell-checker that doesn't use a dash or space between spell and checking when it says "Done spellchecking" once you are finished. Just asking.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Whether the Weather

We are having unseasonably cool and wet weather this week. I suppose you could say it started last Friday with a high of 89° and a low of 66°, but I say that it started last Monday with a high of 95° with low humidity and a low of 70°. True, 95° is not cool, but lower humidity made it feel cool. Usually in mid-August we are in the broiler, so to speak, with temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s with no rain in sight, but with a stifling humidity that makes you feel as if you are breathing water. The pastures are toasted to a crisp brown and the water hoses are in place to keep the shrubs and garden from keeling over.

Not this August.

We have gotten an inch and a half of rain in the past 24 hours, and the 24 hours before that was about the same ( I know some places in Mississippi didn't get this much rain). Tomatoes are splitting and I've had to locate my mud shoes that have been hiding since early spring. I have donned my favorite raggedy sweatshirt.

Happy, I am, but what's with this? Could fall be in the air so soon? Or will the heat and humidity return to zap us again?

I'm waiting, but whether the weather says fall or summer we will start school next week and I am ready.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Catsup, Ketchup, or Catchup? What's in a name? And in the bottle?

I've been using tomatoes. This time making catsup, which is what one of my grandmothers used to call it, ketchup, which is what branded varieties are called, or Catchup, which I find is an older version. Making this condiment takes lots of tomatoes and it is so much better than the bottled versions that are laced with high fructose corn syrup and who knows what else. I think I'll start calling it Catchup since it enabled me to rid my table of tomatoes. Look here and here for more information.

To make Catchup, cut about 2 gallons of tomatoes (about 50). The recipe in the Ball Blue Book says to chop them, but I don't find all that chopping necessary. I do chop the onions and bell pepper. Onion and pepper take longer to soften so I don't skip that step.

Once you cook all this until soft you run it through a food mill to get all the skin, seeds and big hunks out. You really only want pulp.


Add a spice bag, some sugar, salt and paprika and cook until the flavors begin to meld together. Add the vinegar and cook until thick.

Here's the recipe before I steer you wrong.
Tomato Catsup
4 quarts chopped, peeled, cored tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 tsp whole allspice
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 stick cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 cups vinegar

Cook tomatoes, onion and pepper until soft. Press through a sieve or food mill. Cook pulp rapidly until thick and reduced by one-half, about 1 hour. Tie whole spices in a spice bag. Add spice bag, sugar, salt, and paprika to tomato mixture. Cook gently about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Add vinegar; cook until thick. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove spice bag. Ladle hot catsup into hot jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Yield: about 3 pints. Ball Blue Book


I doubled the recipe. I get a little freaky when my tomatoes go from 12 qts to 4 pints. Even after finishing it, I still have oodles and oodles of tomatoes.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

My Yin - Yang Cat is dead

Yesterday, while we were in Jackson, Tuxie, my most favorite cat, was hit by a car and died. I thought I was old enough to not get emotional over the loss of a pet, especially an inside/outside cat who really couldn't tolerate ownership, but I'm not.

We have lots more cats, but Tux can never be replaced. She epitomized cat - poised, graceful, well-groomed, and cuddly, yet intensely territorial and a fierce, efficient hunter.

In fact, she could switch from cool cat to predator instantly. The pictures at right were taken seconds apart, though since I lost control of the camera a couple of years ago, I have no idea what she saw or heard that caused the switch.

She chose me. In fact, I rarely got to sit on the porch swing without her in my lap. For getting the chance to nurture something so perfectly opposing, yet complementary, I am privileged.

Friday, August 08, 2008

An Accounting

I was responding to comments on my Adventure post and I realized I had more to say. I still commented so you can go read that. I'm not saying the same thing here.

First off. I don't know how she does it since she lives at least 800 miles away and we only email occasionally, but Zilla seems to know the rest of the story without me writing it. Yes, we were out searching for alligators for my son to photograph. We also had on our list a copperhead and a water moccasin, two snakes he hasn't been able to capture on our property. We saw none of the above. Dragging a kayak over downed trees is a bit noisy for snake observation. Plus, we left the river before we got to true alligator territory.

Our plan was to travel through alligator territory, but we didn't want to spend the night with alligators and the first part of the journey took way too long for us to make it to the next area with car access. We were lucky that the river was so clogged because the storms predicted for today happened yesterday afternoon. You don't want to be on the river when storms are raging and all streams are running your way. We'll go back next week.

The Accounting

River miles navigated: 4
Trees across the river that required lifting the kayak over and across: 30
Areas dammed by beavers that required lifting the kayak over and across: 3
Time on the water: 5 hours
Wildlife seen: Turtles sunning on logs, more water bugs than can be imagined, a few snakes (not the ones we were seeking), frogs, a beaver slide, dragonflies, yellow flies, thrashers, a kingfisher, and a turkey, but no ivory-billed woodpecker.
Items lost in the river: Sunglasses, two water bottles, a can of dolphin-safe, oil packed tuna which was going to be lunch, a Tab, the one my sister gave me for my birthday(I had already drunk the one my husband gave me.)
Number of times we tipped the kayak: 1
Items found: My son's respect and admiration, muscles I forgot I owned, my sense of my old self, a whole lot of laughs, some clothes that will never be the same unless my mother has mercy and works her magic.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Adventure

K and I had a small adventure this morning. I mean small in the smallest way. I think our total river mile tally came to four, yet quality should certainly count. I just had to get away from the tomatoes, the computer, and from stuff in general.

School started today in our area. We're counting this as PE, science, and let's see . . . What else? Not really. We are counting this as fun. I love having time in the outdoors with my children.

We traveled on the Pearl River from almost the headwaters to Highway 19. This is a section of the Pearl that few see though it is certainly beautiful. We saw almost no pollution and no people. We did see:


Calm waters in soft filtered light,


Cypress knees (Where is modesty, please?),


Towering ancient cypress, and


Woodpecker homes. Could it be the elusive, possibly extinct Ivory-Billed? Probably not.



Mostly, we saw downed trees across the river. Though we spent most of the morning hauling the kayak around and over these obstacles, we had a wonderful time visiting a place unsullied by people. When we pulled over for lunch and to decide whether we could make it to our destination before dark, we saw what an impact people can have in our wild spots.

This is brand new stuff. The wrapper is in the heap of junk where a giant fire was attempted. I suppose this is an example of our throw away economy and society. Use once and toss.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Mississippi summer found us! We have been enduring the typical heat of the season. Though the temperatures are not as high as some years, the humidity is producing enough stifling heat to steam some fish. Perhaps, I exaggerate, but not much. The heat index was 110° yesterday.

The heat arrived just in time for The Neshoba County Fair. We attended just to prove how tough we were and because seeing antique trucks, steers getting a bath, jockeys hanging onto rickety pieces of aluminum while being towed around a red clay track at alarming speeds, coveted, rickety-crickety cabins, and brightly colored carnival tents on the midway is excitement that just can't be missed. Ever!

The fair draws huge numbers of people despite typical hot, humid weather, raging thunderstorms, red clay dust infiltrating every pore and ruining clothes, or on those rainy days, mud slick enough to need ice skates. People come from all over the state - really, several states - and make a week of it.

We go, but we are not "fair people." We only attend a couple of days each year to let the children compete, eat, wrangle with carnies, and ride. Of course, I like to watch people and look at the brightly painted cabins. I think there is a competition to see who can push the limits of taste using the brightest paint colors available.

This year, I didn't eat a thing. It was just too hot to eat anything fried. I did drink some Lindsey's Lemonade. I also ordered a glass of tea, sweet tea. They only had sweet tea. I haven't drunk sweet tea in years and I suppose during that time I forgot what drinking sickeningly sweet syrup was like. I pitched the tea and risked dehydration and heat exhaustion.

I guess I'm not as southern as I thought I was.

But, I still enjoyed the fair. The children did, too. They hauled home blue ribbons and cash winnings for their projects, rode every ride except the ring of fire (the circle thing in the background), and wandered around the grounds with the confidence of regulars. I guess you get a taste of red clay at an early age and then you are willing to sacrifice comfort, tolerate heat, and cabins packed with relatives, while finding a sense of your childhood at The Neshoba County Fair.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm glad I don't have to commute

I've endured one week and one day of ballet camp. I'm not attending. My daughter is, but I may as well since my days are wasted in the metropolitan Jackson area. We leave the house around 7 a.m. and return by about 5 p.m. I did baby sit two days last week for my little sister, and pick up some emergency merchandise for the family business, so it wasn't totally wasted.

Oh! One other thing. I found a new bookstore, independent of course. Guess what the name is??????

Yellow Dog Books.

K and I couldn't resist the name, the books, or the diversion. A father-daughter team owns and operates the little store situated conveniently across the street from the Cultural Arts Center in Madison where Princess is dancing this week. Even though the store is small, it has some well chosen books - both for children and adults.

That's where I succumbed to temptation and bought another book. I was doing so well in my quest for less, but they plopped David Guterson's new book, The Other, right in my way. I own all his other books, including the homeschooling one, so it was inevitable that I should own this one too. At first I showed unbelievable self-control. I showed K the book and told him it was what I wanted for my upcoming birthday. We perused the remaining shelves, but I just kept drifting over to fondle The Other.

Then, I decided I needed to support small family businesses in this economic time of need.

I'll let you know how the book is, when I finish. Though you'd think I would have much time to read, I find the noisy environs of the Cultural Arts Center unsuitable for reading.

Four more days.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

This Morning Down on the Farm


Prehistoric birds,

Enormous bumble bees,
Squash with pizazz, and

And a BIG SMILE!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Lowly Black-Eyed Pea

I would guess that there is not a garden in this area that does not have at least one row of southern peas, lumped affectionately together as black-eyed peas. The ones I grow are technically pink eye, purple hull peas, but fill the same niche in our garden and larder. There are subtle taste and texture differences between crowders, black-eyed, purple hull, and lady finger, so you try a few and pick a pea. You don't really need to grow more than one kind in a garden unless you want a new variety. Bees just love peas and cross pollination is a sure thing.

In the garden, peas are nitrogen-fixing legumes that are also pollen rich. They love the heat of the south and are even drought tolerate. In the larder, peas are a staple of the southern table. Eaten along with greens or ham or with just cornbread, they are rich in Vitamin A, Folate, and Calcium. They also are a source of protein.

Perhaps, if Mississippians would remember their traditional foods and shun the fast food stands, they wouldn't be the fattest Americans, again.

Today, I will salute the lowly black-eyed pea. After I shell today's harvest, I will cook some, basically unadorned, to eat with some cornbread, accented with some pepper jelly - nothing better, really. Of course, having a hunk of watermelon for dessert wouldn't be bad.

Tradition. Not always bad.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008