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Archive for June, 2014

Most of the garden is underwater for the third time this summer. When not underwater, it is impossible to tend to the garden, because anyone walking anywhere except around the perimeter risks being sucked into a muddy abyss. This is not the time for complaining, whining, or ranting…at least not much, anyway. This old Farm Woman did enough of that over the long snowy winter. It is summer. Did you hear me, Mother Nature? SUMMER. You know what I’m talking about: Warmth, sunshine, and the back of one’s neck feeling a little dirty and gritty. There are some good things happening, however, during this monsoon season. 1) It is not winter. 2) If I can’t get into the garden, I don’t have to weed it. 3) I don’t have to haul three lengths of pieced-together hose to water the garden, and better yet, I don’t have to roll it back up again. When we first moved here, we rescued two old wringer-type washing machines from the trash pile. HE wanted to haul them to the dump, but I love to find other purposes for old junk, so we moved them to the south wall of the house, filled them with dirt, and they became herb gardens. Something that I’ve learned this rainy summer is that herbs love cool wet weather and they are thriving. Rather than snipping a few here and there for seasoning, I am carrying them in by the bucketful, with some of the basil leaves being almost as big as my hand. Since I can’t control the weather, I decided to have a “wait and see” attitude about the rest of the garden. In the meantime, I’ll make lots of pesto, drink iced tea with fresh mint, and for once in my life, cook with as much fresh parsley as I want. The strawberries, beneath their weedy disguise, went unnoticed by the woodland creatures who usually nibble on them, and for the first time ever, I have harvested more than a handful. I really don’t much care for that dirty and gritty feeling on the back of my neck anyway, but I sure do love the taste of fresh strawberries, eaten out of hand while standing in the garden. The added danger of teetering at the edge of a muddy abyss only makes them taste sweeter.

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Sweet Memories

My sister and I, along with my best childhood friend since the first grade just finished giving an estate sale to sell the leftover items that nobody wanted from my mother’s apartment. It sounds kind of sad to say that nobody wanted those things, because we probably would have taken more if we lived in bigger houses. My sister, who lives in a house with less storage than mine, has the philosophy of “something in, something out.” I am more of a hoarder sentimental fool who has a memory and a long-winded story attached to everything. Our friend, who tends to keep things also, is downsizing to a smaller house, so passing the stuff to her was out of the question. We each had the chance to take whatever we wanted when we closed the apartment last winter. We divided things without argument, as we both agree that things are just that…things. Some items went to the trash, others to our cabin, and the stuff we didn’t want went into storage for the estate sale. We then cleared out two pickup loads of junk vintage items from our cabin to make room for the new. Our husbands did a lot of the hauling, and we didn’t hear a word of complaint from them (at least not within earshot) but I did catch a little eye rolling here and there. As I packed away Mom’s small old electric percolator and coffee mugs, I had a moment of regret. Even though I have a modern coffee maker that I just have to drop in a pod in and brew, I love the taste of percolated coffee and enjoyed many a cup sitting in the sunny breakfast nook at my parents’ old house eating toast made with Mom’s homemade bread spread with Dad’s wild strawberry jam. Estate sales are more work than fun, but it was nice to visit with old friends who stopped by but didn’t buy nearly enough, former students of Dad’s, and neighbors. When it came time to pack it all up again for donation, I realized that nobody had purchased that old coffee percolator. I just couldn’t let it go, any more than I could let my favorite coffee mug be sold, which didn’t even make it into the sale. This morning, I washed everything and wiped down the stainless steel until it shone. I ground some coffee beans and ran fresh cold water. Mom always said that coffee tastes better of you let the water run for a minute or two. By the time I took the dog out, it was ready, and I sat at the dining room table in the morning sunshine drinking coffee with cream out of an English china mug with pictures of plum blossoms on it. I don’t make homemade bread, and I don’t have the patience or the time to pick enough wild strawberries to make jam, but my memories were sweet enough that for a moment, I almost tasted them both.

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The seven year itch

It is hard to believe, but it was seven years ago this month that we packed up and moved from sunny Florida to a little farm in northern Minnesota. Call it an adventure, a midlife crisis, or just plain old insanity, here we are. To those of you who encouraged our move with tales of global warming and the lack of the old-fashioned winters of our childhoods (Our northern friends), and to those of you that just asked, “Are you nuts?” (Our southern friends), I can only laugh. In the past seven years, we have had the longest winter, the coldest winter, the most snow, and the latest snowfall…at least in the last 30 years. It is a strange coincidence that it was about 30 years when we left Minnesota the last time. I don’t mind either the snow or the cold, as long as I can spend winters under an electric blanket with my computer and gardening magazines. Since we didn’t have much of a spring this year, I placed all my hopes and dreams on summer. Even without a degree in meteorology, I am somewhat suspicious that this summer will go down in the record books as the wettest summer ever. My garden has become a water garden. The low areas of the back yard have several inches of standing water, and I have to wear rubber boots to get to the chicken coop. The animals of the fields and woods have started lining up two by two except for the mosquitoes, who are gathering by the thousands and planning to take over the state…maybe even the world. I surrender every day to their annoying droning sound and biting, and I wake up at night scratching mosquito bites. I then lie awake for what seems like hours, listening to a lone mosquito, circling our bed, lower and lower, closer and closer until…..silence. I slap, waking the dog, waking HIM, and the mosquito starts all over again. Is it just one, or do the rest of the tribe wait behind the curtains to take turns torturing me one by one? This particular circle of life can be a vicious one for everyone involved, including the mosquito. All of the water standing in the back yard will only make the mosquito problem worse. This week, I’ll be spraying myself with bug spray from head to toe to go out and replant much of my organic garden, as soon as it dries out. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, let me just say that you just have to be here to understand. Oh, and to answer your “Are you nuts?” question, my answer is a resounding “Yes!”

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Small Potatoes

My husband, affectionately known as “HIM”, comes from a large family with six children. He is a wonderful cook, and even though it has been many years since he lived at home with brothers and sisters, he still cooks enough to feed them and the rest of the neighborhood kids. I often come home to the aroma of his fried potatoes, which he somehow manages to get the perfect combination of brown and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I could eat a pound of them sprinkled with apple cider vinegar, and that’s not hard to do, since he fries up at least three pounds of potatoes for just the two of us. Whether he is grilling steaks the size of dinner plates or a simple package of hot dogs (“might as well cook the whole package”), we could feed an army around here. The same thing happened when we planned our gardens. Or should I say, when I planned my garden. HE doesn’t garden. He hates gardening, which probably stems from being made to work in his family’s garden as a boy when he would have rather been playing baseball and hanging out with his friends. Oh, he’ll till the garden until the soil is perfect, and he erected a wonderful fence to keep the deer out, too. When we moved to the country, he asked me how large of a garden I wanted. That was kind of like offering a shopaholic an unlimited budget. I had been planning this garden in my City Girl head for years. Gardening to me is like fried potatoes to him. The more the merrier. The bigger the better. I paced off a large plot, adding a few extra feet just in case I wanted to feed any neighboring countries. What I didn’t know is that he had been planning a garden of his own in the back field “to put in some strawberries and a few pumpkins”. (Translated to mean “for YOU to put in a whole bunch of strawberries and a lot of pumpkins”.) Despite the fact that the weeds take over and the birds eat the strawberries every year just as they reach their peak of ripeness, I don’t mind a bit, because I am in my happy place. Besides, gardening is good exercise. I need it to work off those delicious meals he makes. I hope he’s ready to cook, because I planted a lot of potatoes this year.

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Everyone knows that gardens get planted in the spring, and with two large gardens, I’ve got a lot to plant. The only trouble is, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. In Minnesota, one must wait patiently for the snow to melt from the garden. Then, one must wait patiently for the garden to be dry enough from all the melted snow for HIM to till. Then, one must wait…patiently…patiently…for the tiller to get fixed and/or rented. Finally, the garden is tilled, and Mother Nature decided that the weekend would be a good time to send some much-needed rain. I’m looking at the bright side, though. The rain came mostly at night, so I was able to get some things planted during the day. I didn’t have to water anything. Dragging along an extra two pounds of muck on each garden clog burns more calories. Rain also makes the wild asparagus around here grow like crazy. I know it is growing, because I see neighbors carrying handfuls of it, and I see the tall fronds where it has gone to seed, but I can’t seem to find it, myself. Oh, I look for it all right, because I love asparagus. I look, but I do not see it. It is the same color as all the other green things that are growing around here this spring, and it is almost like I can’t see the trees for the forest. It is the same thing with the local delicacy, the morel mushroom. I know lots of morel hunters, and I know they will take their secret gathering spots to their graves. Most of them don’t worry about asking me to go along though, for two reasons. 1) I won’t be able to find the secret gathering spot again, because I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. 2) Once at the secret gathering spot, I couldn’t find a morel mushroom if it jumped out of the ground and landed in my empty bag. My dad used to come home on these warm spring-almost-summer days with a bag of mushrooms in one hand and a bag of asparagus in the other, and that night’s dinner would be delicious. I have come to the realization that although I don’t mind a walk though the woods in an attempt to find mushrooms or along a country road to find asparagus, I would really rather be working in my garden. I’m trying to get an asparagus patch established right now. Maybe I’ll be able to find those delicious, elusive spears just a little bit easier. Some people are hunters, some are gatherers, and some are farmers. Some may have the time and the patience to be all three. For me, despite being buried in the springtime muck, I know my feet are in the right place. Come summer, every night’s dinner will be delicious.

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