Monday, December 31, 2007

Cherry Cranberry Chicken

Ever cook so much of one thing that you get into a rut?
I needed a new twist on chicken, at least from what I usually fix. I threw this together tonight from what I had, and it tasted great :)

I took some chicken pieces (with skin on) and stuffed them with a few fresh cranberries. Then I browned them in a little oil in a skillet for a few minutes, turning once. I transferred them at that point to a long shallow open casserole dish, skin side up, and mixed together some brown sugar and enough soy sauce to make it liquid...sprinkled some more fresh cranberries over the top of the chicken pieces, and some dried cherries. Then I spooned the brown sugar/soy sauce mix over them as well. Baked at 400 degrees uncovered, occasionally spooning the pan juices over the tops of the chicken pieces. It's done when breasts are fully cooked (slice to check) and skin is crispy. It has a crispy skin, juicy and tender flesh, and the saltiness of the sauce is a nice complement to the sweet tartness of the berries. Fruit trees will be a must when we get our land. I want to have some dried fruits handy. They really add a lot to a meal...the cherries and cranberries were delicious!

It was great with a fresh, dark green salad. The salad is easy -- salad greens (I used torn romaine, watercress, and spinach) with sliced veggies (I had carrots on hand, and thin-sliced some onions). The addition of some hearts of palm, sliced, makes my husband really happy, and of course sprinkling in some chunks of feta (to him, feta + greens = Greek salad). The "croutons" are some french bread I had on hand that, after a couple days, had grown hard as a rock. I sliced a few slices, toasted them in a skillet with a little drop of oil and a pat of butter and some garlic. Dicing them is optional, but they make a great crunch factor in a hurry for salad :)

Here's hoping everyone who celebrates this time as their new year has a great and safe celebration!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Shabbat Shalom!

Trouble with Blogger

I'm getting free header graphics, like I have in the past, but even with the same dimensions they are coming out as if wrongly-sized and blurry, even though the original is crisp and perfect. Very frustrating.

Then I got a scare when I went in to edit fonts and colors. The template went completely midnight blue on me...the whole thing. So, apologies for the header stuck in blurry incoherence and the side bar in carnival colors. Even if you put your glasses on or contacts in, it's still blurry.

Hope Blogger gets a strong cup of coffee and figgers out what's going bonkers...


Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Confess

The gift I bought for my cousin out-of-state never made it there.
This time, it wasn't the post office's fault.

Perhaps I should be a little sadder?
Here is why it never made it.

I'm not sad. Not sad at all.

This is the bee-YOO-tiful Icelandic sheep pelt I purchased...uh, for my cousin and her new baby... from Monica at Small Meadow Farm, who has the most gorgeous sheep.

I had every good intention.

This was to be very special. It's for a baby that even prior to birth never was nourished with anything but the freshest and purest organic and homegrown foods, devoid of all the bad stuff. A plump, cuddly, newborn infant who would be nestled all warm and snug into the springy caress of softest wool....the gift...far from the blast of cold winter air or chilly drafts. Babe and wool in perfect harmony.

Only the best wool would do. Only THIS pelt would do...

Look at those waves and crimps...white to silver to charcoal...(sigh of bliss)
Look at it backlit by the sun, the springy loft and depth that makes you want to sink your fingers right into it...or just to hold it up and nestle into it (ok, maybe I have wool issues...), the variations of color undulating throughout...
And the glow of Devonshire Cream and hint of Vanilla when the light hits it just so.

I thought it the perfect

However, I was a very tiny bit insecure. After all it was for a baby gift. Was this a little over-the-top? A little bit over-personalized to the point of being, well, strange?? The sort of gift they'd really really love, or ....think was, well, strange??

I usually adopt the rule when buying for people like myself "buy what I would like," and it usually works well. But the closer the birth date drew, the more paranoid I got about whether they'd truly appreciate this....gorgeous...pelt. Like I would. If I, too, were pushing out a full term baby without pain killers or hospital personnel, right there in the living room, like a heroic pioneer girl. My imagination began working overtime.

"Well, dear, do you have everything you need for the baby?"

"Yes, Mom, we have the crib and the cloth diapers, plenty of sheets and blankets. Not to mention the pelt."

This conversation and others like it filtered through my mind over and over the more paranoid I got about whether it was a ridiculous thing to send...even though to ME it was PERFECT. I comforted myself every time I walked past my sofa and sank my fingers into the deep woolly wonderful-ness. (<----My grammar teacher just groaned again)

And so, the big day came. Yes, my cousin who is no bigger than the fine edge of a piece of typing paper had a home midwife delivery, safely and heroically, and now has an adorable daughter, her first child. They are ecstatic. And of course, tired.

It was this tired ecstasy I heard when she called to tell me the good news. She could only talk for a bit before trying to catch a needed nap. It was hardly the time to assess other things, yet I did ask what she needed, if anything. She named a couple small items, after which I casually mentioned that we'd be mailing a gift soon. And happened to mention I'd given some thought to something unique, warm, beautiful...but was a little unsure as to whether they'd like one or not...a....uh, a....yes well a pelt, beautiful warm woolly pelt.

Since telephone lacks the benefit of the visual element, there was no body language to read. Only the exhaustion of a new mom totally in love with her new daughter. So, since there was no particular reply to my statement, I changed the subject and we rounded things out with well wishes and goodbyes to all.

And THIS....bee-YOO-tiful...woolly wonder...will remain right here, at home in the sunny spot at the back of the sofa, petted and beloved. Until my cousin one day visits and her eyes light up at its very sight and she sighs a particular sigh and I feel released to entrust it into her care...OR...(in the event that doesnt happen) till never, and it's (to put it ever so delicately)...MINE MINE MINE!!! (lol ok am I happy or what?)

And so, for now, we sent the gift that keeps on giving.


And I ...I will lean back into a silvery crimped softness and springy wooliness and dream of sunny fields , the crackle of golden hay, slow gentle creatures and crazily leaping lambs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Kiwano: The Horned Melon Experiment

otherwise titled What to do When You're One of the Few People Not Celebrating Christmas) ;-)

At the store yesterday, I noticed something in the produce section. It was a curious-looking fruit I've noticed in a seed catalog before, one of the items I circled because of my strange attraction to unusual things (ha! what does this say about my friends and husband?? heh heh). Or maybe I saw it nestled between the pomellos and the starfruit and decided to root for the underdog.

Nah, I got it because of my strange attraction to unusual things... I won't explore that subject in this post, though...

This will attest to my subtle programming by my Ultimate Very Favorite Way Coolest Seed Catalogue of Greatest Esteem, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Nevermind the depictions of its founder in campy Roy Rogers get-up, Jere Gettle is one incredible heirloom seed sort of guy. This catalogue is bursting with lists and descriptions of seed varieties, many of them rare or lesser-known in this neck of the woods. The pictures and sheer selection are addictive. You've been warned!

Anyway, here is what made it home with us yesterday...

Cute little fellow, eh? It's a remarkably beautiful fruit...or melon, depending on which name for it you adopt. In the store it was labeled Horned Melon, and in the Baker Creek Heirloom catalogue (happy sigh), it's called Jelly Melon, Kiwano, or African Horned Cucumber.

Hello, beautiful!

Here is a close-up. What color! Looks good enough to eat...maybe

The color up close is that of a flame orange-red cucumber with yellow splashes, about the size of a lemon, and yes, those are spines. A cucumber with a cactus complex? You can hold it in your hand gently, and the spines don't hurt, but to grab it roughly would cause you to release a tighter grip.

It is described in the catalogue as a

"very unusual fruit with spiny 'horns.' The green-yellow skin turns a bright
deep orange when ready to harvest, and the pulp inside fruit resembles lime
green Jell-O. The fruit has a sweet-sour, banana-lime-tropical fruit taste; good
juiced and sweetened. This fruit is showing up quite often in US markets. Native
to Africa, it is hardy and easy to grow about anywhere you can grow melons.
Beautiful vine and fruit! Tiny seed."
Since it's a full sun plant, and Florida seems to get a lot of that much of the year, I really wanted to give this a try to see if we liked it. And so naturally, it called for an experiment. I mean a guinea pig. I mean a husband! When I brought this fruit home yesterday, J wrinkled up his nose and said he'd tried on of these before, and its taste "wasn't much." I asked him if he'd tried it sweetened like the catalog suggested, and he said he hadn't.

So let the experiment commence! (arrange hair straight up like a mad scientist "Zees ees our feerst subject. --raising knife -- You can see eet ees putting up very leetle reseestance...")

First, we slice the, cucumber...mystery Lime Green Jell-O fruit...or whatever...

It slices easily, about like a thick-skinned cucumber would. I'm looking for jiggly Jell-O. Instead, I see seeds and pulp. The pulp is a shade lighter than lime green. We're still on track...

See that little dribble of juice on the plate, from the cutting? It does have a slightly thick, clear, consistency, like gelatin that's unfinished firming up. It's not slimy, though. I dipped my finger in it for an initial taste. It tasted mildly of lemon, only not as astringent and with a bit of a fruitier flavor. But mostly like a mild lemon.

A closer look reveals each seed encased in this clear green fruit capsule, very juicy. Any firmer and it would have reminded me more of a pomegranate seed. But these were juicy, slippery, and non-slimy. Pardon the picture quality. These are all indoor pictures and I don't know the right setting yet for the fancy camera I have. It's not the camera's fault...I'm just not worthy. Yet

It's time to juice the fruit. It requires only the most expensive, advanced, high-tech juicer. Here it is partially juiced. The skin is pliable, like the skin of a lemon, when juicing, and the pulp comes out very easily. There are a lot of seeds. They appear soft, too, rather than hard and woody. We'll see..

We'll try this sweetened three ways. The first way, with granulated sugar. Otherwise known to many health-conscious folks as The Devil Itself. But nevertheless a substance that still survives in our own cupboard today. We only do this in the interest of a good cause, a service to humanity. We must see if this is actually edible, or if its use lies only in its beauty and novelty. We'll do our duty. It's a sacrifice, but public servants we are... ;-)

The reason we're testing it with just plain sugar is to test its use as a possible sweetened juice to be used alone or with other juices.

OK, next up, some yogurt.

This is pre-sweetened vanilla yogurt. The store-bought kind. Hey, it's what was in the fridge. I haven't learned to make my own. Yet. Anyway, the point here is to test for its yum potential in smoothies made with yogurt.

Next up, in orange juice.

I know I know, I have further disgraced the name of Canon. I often enjoy drinking a blurry morning glass of OJ, so it was worth being included in the test.

Here is the freshly-juiced melon half, which is a bit bigger than a large lemon half.

Here is the juice we'll add to the bowls of sugar, yogurt, and orange juice. It really looks a bit like lime Jello-O. Not sure to test this with or without seeds, but as the seeds cling to the pulp and there are so many of them, we'll try it with the seeds for now.

Looks yummy! And in it goes...
First, into the bowl with a little sugar.

In the second bowl, the seeds/juice are combined with sweetened vanilla yogurt.

And lastly, some juice with seeds stirred into some orange juice.

How fun! Alright, hubby was summoned to the table for the taste test. After all, he'll be the one eating most of these fruits if we decide to grow them. He's definately the fruit lover around here!

The suspense built, a spoon was weilded and a rating scale of 0 to 5 was employed...0 being "Intolerable" and 5 being "The Nectar of Heaven." Here are the results:

(Drum rollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll)

1. The juiced pulp with sugar added: Score = 4 points Very Good
Flavor: Smooth and pleasant, with no aftertaste. Mildly tropical and tasting of very mild sweet banana. He like this one. We'd likely try it both with and without seeds as a drink as such.

2. The juiced pulp mixed with sweetened vanilla yogurt: Score = 5 points J ate the whole thing
and said it was an excellent combination. He described the flavor as entirely different than the juice he had tried by itself...when combined with sweetened vanilla yogurt, it had a distinctly mild tropical lime flavor, very smooth and non-acidic, with no aftertaste. I think it tastes borderline kiwi. It would be excellent as a smoothie this way. Very mild and sweet and delicious! He found the seeds to be cucumber-like in size and with a firm shell not quite as hard as a mature cucumber's. He drank it down as is, and wondered aloud if this might be an extra benefit as fiber. At which point I mentioned to him that the seeds are highly toxic and poisonous. At which point he looked at me and burst out laughing. Yeah well, ok so they're not. Just keeping the man's attention.

3. The juiced pulp added to orange juice: Score = 0 points. Ugh. Not so good. Jiggly pulp and seeds floating in orange juice with no taste benefit and muddying the flavor considerably. Looks like something you'd concoct that takes awful but is "good for you." Worse tasting than barley green and better tasting than castor oil. Nuff said.

Final Results: #2 wins hands down...and the fruit is a keeper. We'll try some sort of filtering of the seed from the juice, possibly slightly heating it and using a strainer. Or we'll use it with the seeds included, more for ease and health.

Any combination of this with other fruit juices would have to be experimented with. It is pretty cool in that it changes flavor according to what it's with, at least as we tried it. It would be fun to play around with!

Just for kicks, I got out my stick blender and blended the yogurt/juice combination till the seeds were just teensy little flecks. Ground up like that they come out in texture about like strawberry seeds you eat along with the strawberry when eating those fresh. I've not used psyllium seed that much, but it might be along the lines of that in texture. In the yogurt mix itself, after being blended, it went down very smoothly and not super gritty. Texture, yes, but more liquid than bulk and a VERY enjoyable taste. This might be a GREAT fiber source, so delicious that no one thinks of it as a fiber fix as much as a terrific treat.

Update: Since posting this, I found one mention online of the seeds potentially being toxic to mammals. I can find no hard data to support this, and the fruits themselves are found in the melon section of the produce department in my store. Hmmm. Well, till this is cleared up, I may try to strain the pulp through a strainer/colander. I also found folks who tried and hated this fruit, describing it as slimy and horrid. It seems that before fully ripening, it can be sliced and used as garnish and cooking amendment with meats and such, and that if left to be overripe, it tastes like overripe tomatoes. Well, that would put anyone off. However, I instantly like the SWEETENED fruit. Without a bit of sweetener, it is unremarkable in flavor. Many of the fruits we use, however, are ones we're used to. I think we'd hate lemons if we didn't have a clue how to use them. Or limes. Etc. Anyway I am posting this CAUTION: Don't eat the seeds simply because we tried them. Do your own research to determine edibility and safety. For now, we'll research this claim of toxicity (I'm not sure if it's just someone's opinion of if it's based in fact...I saw no data or sources cited) before utilizing the seeds. But we WILL use the juice :)

The scooped-out fruit shells are also used by people as unique presentation containers for scoops of ice cream and other foods, for fun. So let's play with our food :)

It's a keeper!

What to do on Christmas Eve...

when you are the only four people in the county who don't celebrate Christmas??

1. Sleep in that morning. Everyone. Very very late. Just because you can! (ok and because your daughter called way past her curfew last night because boyfriend's car wasn't operable for driving her home, long story, and so you got your tired parental behind out of bed, dressed in mismatched clothes and drove to fetch her which is fine but not good news at that hour...ha!)

2. Did I mention sleeping in? That is a GIFT in our house!

3. Leisurely have hot tea and make hubby breakfast. Daughter still sleeping in...

4. Leisurely shower and dress and talk about...what else?? ideas. Take care of a little miscellaneous business...mail, stamps, etc. Teach daughter how to pay one of her first bills. On time.

5. Leisurely head to the grocery store that closes in four hours, for things we simply need for the week. Chuckle at the timing of going grocery shopping four hours before pre-christmas shopping is shut down.

6. At the store, hum and smile and marvel at the really great sales and the overabundance of cream of mushroom soup. Wonder how many people across the world are making some version of grean bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup. Stay out of the way of desperado shoppers who are careening precariously down the aisles as if their lives depended on getting the last box of stuffing mix. Continue to hum and smile. Pick out weird fruit I've never seen in hopes of trying it and if liking it, saving the seeds to plant later.

7. Leave store.

8. Hubby calls to ask if he can take me out to eat. Is the pope catholic??

9. Arrive home and unpack groceries. Daughter is cleaning kitchen because she is having friend over for the cook. WHAT???

10. My daughter wants to cook. With another person. In my kitchen. This years concludes with my being a VERY HAPPY person! She has cleaned the fridge. And the floor. Oh how she must like this friend. Or oh how she must love toll house cookies.

11. Hubby takes me to dinner. Waitress is new. We don't get what we order. We're very nice about it. She looks at us as if we ordered wrong. We are kind. We are happy. We don't care what goes wrong. We're together and not rushing around for any reason. We sit and chat through two pitchers of iced tea.

12. We arrive back home to daughter and friend looking through recipe books. Hubby heads to work. I curl up with seed catalogue and listen to the ongoing dialogue of what sounds great and what ewww would not be tasted with a ten foot pole. There are far more ewws than ahhhs. Two shelves of cookbooks later, they decide on the first recipe they originally discussed. Broccoli cheese casserole. My daughter wants to cook it because it's something she loves from family gatherings past, and her Aunt Peggy always cooks it. And she wants to take it to the dinner at her boyfriend's tomorrow. And she wants some for at home.

13. The girls decide to triple the recipe. (this is where I start chuckling in earnest, silently)

14. My daughter has bought some of the ingredients in advance. Such as the plastic cheese and the frozen broccoli. The recipe calls for a few cups of cooked rice. I hear clattering in the kitchen...a lot lot lot of clattering. I decide to stay out of it unless asked for help. The kitchen is theirs tonight, and they're learning.

15. They learn the difference between a few cups of cooked rice and using a few cups of uncooked rice and ending up with enough rice to feed Thailand. They learn this lesson with my good Basmati ;-)

16. The friend is the official onion chopper. R's eyes swell and tear so much from onions she can hardly be in the same room. I hear here in there, sauteeing them....sniff, sniff, sniff. She weeps great onion tears of desire for this broccoli casserole.

You can't see her tears, but here she stirs...and weeps...and stirs some more...

17. After much cooking, and thankfully, washing, the chicken timer dings and hearty comfort food smells waft from the oven. There is enough broccoli casserole to feed somebody well through the new year. And it tastes good. All are happy! Casserole is snacked on, dishes packed up for tomorrow's dinner, and movies cracked out to watch. They huddle in R's room for girl talk and a chic flick and I get a serious chic flick A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, the five hour version, and settle in. I weep for the first time in forever at a movie. I am happy and weeping and sucked into Jane Austen-ness. Then I wonder if I'm hormonal. Then I miss my husband and call him and we chat. And I finish the movie, hours later, with intervals of calling hubby for friendly conversation. And I glance at the clock and discover it's no longer christmas eve...

18. So I no longer wonder what in the world to do on Christmas Eve! It came, it went, we had a great time!

19. And so now I wonder ...what to do...on christmas day....when we don't celebrate christmas day...


Hope everyone out there has a wonderful time during their breaks with friends and family! And great green bean casserole, the kind with cream of mushroom soup in it, and Durkee onions on top.

Or broccoli cheese casserole cooked for someone you adore!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Monday's Adventure: Top Tropicals

Wow! The stars were aligned or something, but J and I had the same days off for a change, woo hoo!

Monday was our big chance for a day trip, so we looked up a place we've recently been wanting to find...a nursery specializing in trees and exotic plants hardy to our area, especially fruiting plants and fragrance plants. We're not looking for something delicate, but rather something that will both weather the extreme heat and some of the vagaries of the winter thermometer (though this year has so far been quite warm).

Another reason we wanted to find this place is because of the happy coincidence of its being within driving distance, and their carrying a tree we've been very curious about, the Moringa tree. It's a tree I saw mentioned in various articles online related to permaculture and the use of trees as fodder for livestock during times of drought. I'm really excited to know that trees can be used as feed during lean times...the branches and greenery of willows, poplars, and many other trees and shrubs...even holly. Moringa is a tree that seems to have traditional uses for nearly every part of the tree. It thrives despite adverse weather and environmental conditions, can be used as fodder, its many parts used medicinally or as food for humans, and its flowers stir-fried to impart a mushroom taste. Interesting! Our web search for a US supplier turned up this nursery I just mentioned, Top Tropicals, less than a day's drive for us!

Getting there was fun. They refer to their location as the "Tropical Boonies," which is just what is was :) The directions include instructions that read "you can try to Google this location, but the directions are WRONG, so ignore them," and "make a left hand turn at the unnamed dirt road just past the RV park on the right." My kind of adventure!

Then you follow the signs...

This was the first of several signs. And it was a dirt road. Miles and miles and miles. And every so often another sign similar to this one.

Till you get to this sign. Don't be fooled by the illusion of other addresses being pointed to. It's still out in the boonies. It's a very very bad picture. Which is what happens when you're taking it through the windshield of a moving vehicle, pointing right into the noon glare of the sun. Sign on right points to further promises of finding the place. More dirt road to come...

Aha! Another bad shot, but we found the place!

We were met by one of the owners, Mike, and had the FUN of getting to amble around the place as much as we wanted, wandering among the fruiting, flowering, and fragrant plants. (To read Mike's and his wife Tatiana's story, click here.) Not that we actually knew what most things were...there were many plants with which we're unfamiliar. We'll have to research the web site info, since most of them are described well in the online catalog of plants in stock. There is also a wish list for plants not in stock, and the catalog list is much more comprehensive than even the many plants currently on site. Many seeds can also be ordered via their website.

I was really drawn to the fragrance shrubs and trees, ones I've only ever heard of in books, but never seen. There were the Ylang Ylang, the Frangipani, Joy perfume tree, Orchid trees, all sorts of Jasmines, and many I've never heard of...with exquisite frangrances I wish could be adequately described. Oh, heavenly, even with the dip in temps to the 60s! It seems these folks purchased this 20 acres in the past couple years, and have really put a lot of work into the place in a short amount of time. Pics on their site show it nearly a marsh, with standing water in a lot of places, before they put in their two ponds. They've planted fruiting and fragrance plants all around and hope to be getting a harvest next year. They also put down a lot of mulch and compost to improve the sandy soil. Now there is a wonderful diversity of growth everywhere, and we were so delighted to notice bees humming among even the low grass and the weed growth, which has flowers of its own. It just did my heart's been so long since I've seen that many bees working such a big area. A joy!

They had an amazing selection of mangoes and harder-to-find trees...too many to list all of them since it takes up four or five full pages, but just to give you an idea, we saw quinces, loquats, lychees, lemons, limes, kumquats, sapodillas, tamarinds, natal plums, barbados cherries, persimmons, strawberry trees, breadfruit, guavas, figs, durians, papayas, chirimoya, and my husband's absolute favorite, mamey (pronounced mah-MAY). Here is his VERY happy face upon discovering THOSE...

We even saw coffee plants, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla...such fun!

We tried to exercise some self-restraint, which wasn't easy to do, and attempted to limit ourselves to two obviously the moringa. They had several of those in stock, so we snagged one, and J wanted to get a mango, so we got the Carrie variety, after asking Mike for a recommendation. Of course ALL the varieties of mangoes were tempting, and making a selection was difficult, but Mike said the Carrie variety is such that it will never be carried in a simply is too full of nectar and too juicy to survive shipping and handling. In fact, they are best picked straight from the tree, because if they fall to the ground, they are so full of juice that they burst open. And they taste out-of-this world, or so he said. We were convinced. A Carrie made its way home with us, along with a Moringa. Now we have them huddled next to the three papayas J has potted in the backyard.

Here are the papayas and the moringa. The papayas have the pointed leaves and the moringa has the more delicate looking leaves and the white flowers on a very slender stem.

Here is a close-up of the maringa blooms. The sturdy green pole thingy is what I have it staked to.

Here are the leaves of the moringa, and the stem, which will one day be a sturdy trunk...I hope! We were told it will look wimpy till we get it into the ground permanently, at which time it will flourish and be really lush and fast-growing.

Here's the Carrie Mango. I hope it survives our amateurish beginning attempts long enough to get planted on LAND that we HAVE...hopefully sooner than later.

Update on that score...we have the good fortune, or rather blessing, of having narrowed our search target down from a region to a county and now to a specific area. I can't elaborate on how we're attempting to acquire acreage there, or give any more details just now, but they will be forthcoming if we're successful. We're much farther along than we've ever been! One transaction is in the legal process of being investigated (for no loose ends, etc) and another is in negotiation, depending upon the owner's being amenable to terms we're negotiating. Ah, the waiting part... EVERY day we do something related to the land. EVERY day we add to our computer file of things we have questions about and need to look up, or have looked up but need to keep investigating. EVERY day we have more conversations. I can't every day get online just now, since the computer is sustaining two of us with many time demands jobwise and one lovesick teenager whose boyfriend is stationed in the military beyond phone distance. This blog has been sadly neglected, but I do try to dash here in the event there is anything important in our process to detail.

I've now had going on three days with my husband due to the irregularity of our schedules. It's like being on a honeymoon, especially since we never had a honeymoon :) With the weather turning cooler (finally!), it's been spring-like and sunny and we've had SUCH fun being together. It's definately the shot in the arm I needed! I've been homesick for this man :)

I discovered the nausea I'd been experiencing for weeks was due to a medication, and after discontinuing it two days ago, I feel like my old self...yay! It was eating a hole in my stomach. No more! My blood sugar was also not in balance, something I have to be careful about, so that's being addressed now, too. The more physical work and organic veggies we can have at hand, the better it is for us both. We LONG to be at that point in our land journey. It's getting closer than farther, that's the consolation. And every month we keep plugging away at the jobs is another month closer to being debt-free. Anything we do on the land will be done without debt. One change we hope is about to happen is the transition for our daughter in her nursing career. Hopefully, within only 3 or 4 months she will have her LPN license. We're certainly praying all goes well with that, too! (Praying hard!) It will release us as her primary monetary support so that she can partially support herself while still availing herself of home and food here while she pursues further schooling...and a job! She is looking forward to being employed and having the ability to manage her own expenses as much as possible, and I see it as a good and gradual transition. Which will free up more resources for us, too!

Well, that's the scoop for now. Over and out till there's something else to report. I'll do a post about fodder trees soon, hopefully. I think it's an under-utilized resource in the US farming community, most likely.

Hope all are well! :)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

Hanukah's over...and so is this week. My prayer is that our light shines as brightly all throughout the year in ways that count. Peace to your household this night and day tomorrow.

Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mazel Tov!

Congratulations to my cousin on the birth of her first child, a baby girl! They've named her Havah...a beautiful name:) It was a home birth, and all are safe and answer to many prayers! SO happy for the new addition to their farm and family!

Surviving the Bah Humbugs

My own bah humbugs, that is :) Yes, I was tired, but also I just have times I get reflective/introspective and just want to step back and "process" things sometimes...and let the world keep spinning its own crazy spin...and be a spectator. Or maybe I really miss having four seasons and it seems strange to my body not to have any appreciably cold weather to sear the senses, clear the head, and make for bright cheeks and dashes indoors to bake goodies and curl under the warmth of an afghan on the couch. It's ten degrees or so cooler here than the summer weather, but still in the 80s. My plants and yard think it's one long summer. Since my garden was minimal this year, and laid to bed much earlier due to work schedules, I don't have lingering outdoor chores, but when we have it all underway in a bigger fashion in the not-too-distant future (for necessity rather than experimentation), will this season-that-won't-end prove exhausting? Strange, it seems unnatural to be hot ten months out of 12. The upside is the longer growing season, which I'm watching carefully, to see what planting times we'll need at what intervals throughout the year, since they're so different than four-season areas. We may need to plan a "salad season" if the weather ever gets below the 80s, in which to grow the lettuces and such and hopefully give the rest of the garden a sabbatical. Let's see...last year this time, we'd already had a couple of cold spells. Crazy crazy weather :)

I'm fighting some sort of keeps us busy in the details and my mind won't stop chipping away at questions and things I want to research here. I've seldom been here to blog in the last few weeks because of a reluctance to just ramble on, when most of the research is not anything I can put into practice in the now. It's not theoretical, I tell myself. We'll need to know something about many things, to have an idea, to avoid bigger blunders, to have something to start with and from which to fine tune. But I've been mostly reading others' blogs, and simply shutting up about it all for a bit. (Me, that is) Also, most of my writing comes off sounding like a complaint, which is strange since I daily feel grateful for nearly everything in my life.

I'm physically feeling much better...yay! And I'm not pregnant, which I wouldn't have minded (in fact, would have loved!), but which would have definately have put a different spin on some upcoming plans. School's going well for R, and J's job is more predictable than mine has been. Mine's been jammed with long hours, and with respites in between where there is no assignment at all...the schedule is unpredictable. And I've recognized a very important fact: I'm simply homesick. I love being home, working around this place, doing the stuff that needs to be done. It's my domain, where I feel comfortable, where I can be myself and dress the way that's comfortable and make a world for my family. I love feeling this way! I love taking care of my household and seeing my family happy here. It's our springboard to other places, too...but our place to come home to.

So, yes, I pulled myself from the doldrums and hurriedly pulled together a celebration night while there was still a day or two left of Hanukah, and we had a wonderful time together of lighting lights, having time together and talking, saying things we seldom stop and really talk about, and gift-giving. It was relaxed and fun, and everyone participated, and we ate pizza and laughed. There were not tons of gifts, but a few good ones, and mostly what we loved was just stopping and celebrating as a family...right here at home. And piecing together the beginning of what'll be our own tradition for this holiday. Yay! The menorah's still in the window, and the electric one will still be plugged in through the upcoming weeks...just because.

We're planning another trip to the more northerly counties to go look at the land, and have been on phone and emails with several contacts. While nothing has finished materializing, we're still in prayer and believe that ultimately what's meant to be WILL happen since we're being consistent and doing our part. God will help us with the timing and the open doors, and I do really believe that there is a "right place" He'll guide us towards. Thank you so much to those of you who're anticipating with us that day ...when it finally opens up and we start THAT new beginning phase!

I'll post a couple short posts about what I'm sniffing out just now about some native and non-native plants. J wants us to start gathering together some pots of tree seedlings. I'm not so sure we need to try to keep a bunch of seedlings growing in pots without having a place to plant them quickly...I'm concerned about keeping them healthy in pots in the meantime, but since he's so excited to try it, I'm aboard :)

OK, enough of this post. I'm already thinking of deleting! I'm boring myself to death!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Small Break

Goodness, I haven't been here in a while! Not sure the cumulative reasons, but life's been busy and I'm under some sort of fatigue. That was not helped by the fact I either had a case of food poisoning or some sort of stomach virus the past week. Green I was :) If the constant nausea doesn't go away, I'll be going to get a pregnancy test (I don't think that's what it is, though...)

Can't seem to get on a good schedule...I've been scheduled to work 12 hour nights, then the job changed. Add to that having a family, trying to sleep during the brightest hours of the day, and then doing a changeroo when one assignment ends and the next kicks in PLUS the fact my boss has me running hither and yon on my off days. Let's just say the house is a mess, my daughter's been eating more cereal than usual, and I have a very patient and understanding husband. And the four basic food groups of the nauseated...pepto bismol, dramamine, immodium, and water.

We're also in a holding pattern to hear back from our contact in our area of interest as goes the land. We've got the ball rolling, but how fast it's rolling here near everyone's holidays has yet to be seen. I've got more to type here about things I've found online, especially about tree fodder, something I found mention of when reading permaculture literature recently. But I can't seem to find the ooomph to do anything more than check mails and sip clear liquids. Sure hope this passes soon! It's too sunny outside for this to be winter malaise. I seldom wish to be younger, but that thought has crossed my mind more than once recently...wondering if age is taking away some of my bounce-back-ability. Hmmm.

Hubby has been doing admirable substitutionary cooking in my absence from the kitchen. Tonight was the first time I could take the smells, even the cooking smells, long enough to make anything. I should have stuck to a clear broth and some steamed veggies, but instead made creamed chicken over biscuits...and steamed veggies. So far so good, as far as keeping it IN the stomach :)

I've reaaaallllllyyyyyyy got to get my nights and days back in sync. I've read a lot of books during those 12 hour work or two full books a night. But I'm even booked out, which I thought was impossible!

Sorry this isnt an interesting post. Documenting life and our process isnt always interesting, I guess. It's Hanukah, and we haven't lit a single candle...I've not decorated...we've set aside a night when we'll have a celebration, but even that is destined to be quiet and smallish this year. I really wanted to do things differently this year. ..don't I say that every year? I'm going to have to get more deliberate, way ahead of time. It's rather liberating not to be in the christmas rush as in past years, though the change still at times seems very radical. It seems radical to NOT be shopping, getting into debt, booking our schedules silly, and cooking for a month ahead of time as in the past. Were I to put in one request for a change in Hanukah, that would be that the music be as awesome and fun as the christmas music that's all of the things I love the most.

We'll form our new traditions as we go, but I feel a bit guilty that I didnt do that this year, no matter what the reason. This time with my daughter and my husband together is really precious, and since she'll likely be moving away in the coming years, I want to make each moment count.

And go clean the dishes and go back to bed.

To sleep, perchance to dream. Perchance to awake feeling ten years younger?? ;-)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Due to job schedules, we had to cancel plans with family friends for this holiday. At the last minute, I realized I'd better grab the few hours we did have together and make those memorable, even if they weren't what I'd usually think of as ideal.

We ate quite a bit earlier than we normally would have, and rather than having a crowd or being part of one, it was just the three of us. These days, getting the three of us together for any amount of time can be a feat, so I made food so that we'd have our own celebration. It was relaxing...everyone in their Tshirts or houserobes, nobody to go visit, no time to indulge in much extra activity. If that's how things work out, I'll take it :) So I put a turkey in the oven to cook overnight, set out the ingredients for this and that on the counter, and got up early to see that everything simmered, roasted, and got gravied up by noon.

Here's what we ended up having, even if I cut corners to save time:

Turkey, baked and roasted the last few minutes. Seasoned with a rosemary herb mix.
Cranberry Sauce
Pickled Beets
Mashed Potatoes
Turkey Gravy
Brussels Sprouts
Hot Rolls

Pie for Dessert (But everyone was full and didn't want dessert)

Normally I wouldn't have that many starches, and that few green and colored veggies. But it all tasted great and "ate well." :) And we have leftovers that will last a while. But most importantly, we found our niche of time to relax, eat, and not rush...and to be thankful. My daughter has a few welcome days off school, and I got some much needed sleep after the Tryptophan kicked in post-meal. Hubby and I got a nap in together before he had to head to work, and R and I sat around and watched a couple funny movies together in our comfy clothes. My pillow was never far away...I seem to be able to sleep at the drop of a hat today. Caught up later with a couple of friends from afar, which is always nice, and now, sleep! I think it's all the carbs...or is it the fact I use real butter in everything? Anyway, seems like my body is really taking its time digesting today.

A great day...together. And for that, I give thanks!

Here's hoping your day was equally wonderful :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Did I really say my husband had off for Thanksgiving?

The phrase that did it: "My husband has off for Thanksgiving."

NEVER say this four days before the big day. It tempts the fates. Stars re-align. Conspirators conspire. Icebergs melt, seismographs tremble, migrations are thrown into confusion, the earth wobbles on her axis. Lemmings stream over cliffs into the pounding surf below. Pigs fly. The pope is no longer catholic.

Bosses telephone.

Ring ring. Ring ring. Ringgggggggg ringgggggggg.



"Hi, J, this is _____ at ________"


"What? I can barely hear you? Is this ___________?"

"Yes!" ZZzzspssssphhhhhtttzzzz "Can you hear me better now??" ZZzzspssssphhhhhtttzzzz "I need you to work Wednesday and Thursday!" ZZzzspssssphhhhhtttzzzzzzzzzzzzssssssphttttppp

"Wednesday and Thursday?? I'm still having a hard time hearing you -- it sounds like there is static on your line"

"Yes! Nights!! OK, well we'll see you then!" ZZzzspssssphhhhhtttzzzzyttppgbzzzzzzzzzzzz

"Hello? Hello? Hello? "

(Dial tone)

*******Two Hours Later, husband to wife, upon see her awaking*********

"Hi, honey! You're must have been really tired. I didn't want to wake you up"

"Oh, thanks :) What's going on?"

"Oh, nothing much, except I got a phone call"

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes, your cousin called. I told her you had to work last night and were sleeping. I told her you might call her back tonight"

"Oh, good! Haven't talked to her in a while."

"There was another call, too"


"Yes, I got a call from work. It was hard to understand...a lot of static. But they called to let me know I'm scheduled to come in on Wednesday and Thursday."


"Yeah. I tried calling back a few times but there was no answer. Anyway, I guess that's how they're leaving it. I have to work Wednesday and Thursday."

"But Thursday is Thanksgiving. The only Thanksgiving we've had together where nobody was scheduled to work!"

"I know, but what can I do? I tried calling back and nobody would answer"

"But Thursday is THANKSGIVING!! No way, you didn't really tell them you'd WORK Thanksgiving????"

"Like I said, there was a lot of static, and when I tried them back several times, there was no answers...what was I supposed to do??"


Monday, November 19, 2007

Working Nights, Or Don't Give up Your Day Job

Alrighty then! This 12 hour nights job-a-ma-thingy is messing with my sleep cycle!

No complaints, though. If this will further our progress FASTER to Get That Land, then so be it... a night owl I shall be. And speaking of which, there is a very loud real owl that patrols my night site and makes his presence known. We were introduced as I sat in a very very DARK parking lot, being watchful (as the job requires), and about scared the bajeebers out of me when he first made himself known...LOUDLY, overhead.

There are also four cats that lurk--which isn't that easy to see in the pitch dark, but they are different shades of the surrounding dimness-- two black, one gray, and one black and white. They prowl around like fingers of shadow-on-shadow during the night. They must still have a bit of kitten in them, as they chase bugs a lot and at times will do the four-legged Sproingggg straight up in the air when surprised by some poor insect they're batting around. I meant to bring them a bit of dry food the past few days, but forgot, so last night they got some cumulative leftovers. They lucked stomach was iffy and the grocery-store salmon "sushi" rolls (I think it was smoked salmon) didn't swim well in my digestive tract, so those were offered (geesh...!) And on top of that, J stopped by to surprise me with a hot meal from the local Greek family restaurant. What would usually have been my favorite (lamb!) was nibbled on by me, and FEASTED upon by the kitties. I can't believe I've been reduced to sucking peppermints while I watch furry midgets eat the good stuff, but these night-and-day switcheroos have put my stomach on the high seas.

Ah I put together a tray of some of the collected leftovers for the cats, and they spent most of the evening making trips to the buffet, which also included some leftover hamburger and some italian bread, mashed potatoes, and green peas. Hope it holds 'em...the next few nights might be limited to yogurt and saltines, at this rate :)

Thanksgiving should be interesting, but my daughter's sorely disappointed that there's been a major change of plans. Her boyfriend, new to the Navy, had planned a Thanksgiving visit to his parents here locally, and was scheduled to arrive last Friday. Alas, the Navy had other ideas, though, and ON Friday as he was about to leave, they told him he had to stay and report to be shipped to a location overseas. He knows to expect the unexpected, but even so...I know they were really disappointed. She'd bought a couple of new outfits and made plans for each evening he was to be here. Now they're beginning, again, to count the days till they THINK they'll see each other next. Hopefully, she'll have her nursing training closer to completion by then. It should keep her pretty busy in the meantime. I'm glad she's here for the holiday. If luck holds out, all three of us have the same day off together...something that's becoming rarer and rarer.

J is working crazy hours, too. Those off days are becoming more and more important, especially trying to steal some time together. There WILL be a payoff, and not just in dollars, in sight. He told me tonight he can SEE the progress in the bills, and we're getting closer to that day we'll be able to Do This Thing (make our move to acreage). Can it really happen in the next few months?? He thinks so! That fuels my resolve and my ability to drag myself out of bed after a SHORT sleep between 12 hour shifts.

I wish my car would cooperate better. We're in a car quandry. J has the good vehicle, a truck. R has the Old Faithful 17 year old Nissan-that-thinks-it-can. (I LOVE that car! it's minus AC, though, and R's blown the speakers out. Or in her words "those have BEEN like that for years!" ha! yeah, the years SHE'S driven it ;-)) MY car is the one we got in a hurry, the Taurus SHO V8. It drives like a $30,000 vehicle (or such is my guess) spoils a person. It was a bargain, IF it actually WORKED. We have now exceeded the original (reasonable, affordable) used car purchase price in REPAIRS. Yes, our ONE American made car is the only one requiring baffling numbers of repeat visits to the shop. I've had people on the street (men only, actually) stop me and want to see the engine of this car. They are amazed at the wonderful condition the vehicle is in, and tell me WHAT a GREAT car I have. I want to fall down on my knees and sob and beg them to PLEASE have MERCY on me and take this beautiful leather interior superior handling lumbar supporting spacious interior handling like a dream DEMONIC LEMON CAR OFF my hands NOW, only we owe the balance of the loan for it.

Here is a typical day in our CAR life. Hubby drives off to work in his Dependable and Attractive Truck. His AC works. He gets the basic maintenance oil changes periodically. He has bonded with his vehicle. He adores her. They have a special relationship I am not permitted to share. Even though he spits out the window, she adores him and gets him where he needs to go...without drama.

Daughter drives The Nissan That Thinks It Can. It is old. It is opinionated. It has survived a tree falling on it, a single mother learning to care for a car alone for the first time, and a teenager learning to drive for the first time EVER. Its dings are its badges of honor. It is a nice dark neutral gray, which hides most age spots and wear. It endures my 19 year old's taste in seat covers, its respectable sedan seating now punctuated loudly with a very LOUD and RED beach pattern. There is the small stuffed monkey hanging from the rear view mirror. There is the Happy Meal Mr. Potato Head toy that resides in the back window ledge, announcing every turn with a skitter and a Bam! against the opposing glass. And the detritus of textbooks, workout clothes (in various stages of cleanliness), a few petrified french fries, the picture of the boyfriend suspended from the visor, makeup/sunglasses/ID card, etc all smooshed in the valley below the hand brake, and a collection of empty water bottles. This car is a chain smoker. Something somewhere had a small oil leak and fizzes a bit of oil round and about enough to cause the heated engine to smell as if it will burst into flame at the least provocation. However, I'm assured (knock on wood) it is perfectly safe, just a little annoying. And not worth the money it would take to fix it. Hmmm... There's no AC, so you have to roll down the windows and drive fast. And it steams up the windows during rain, which is a real pain. But this will GET you there!

MY car. Will make you want to drive. It floats. It is a dream, a vision, a magic carpet on the interstate. It barely gets warmed up at 80 mph. I've never allowed it its full potential, this finicky thoroughbred, and let it go "all out", I rein it in, but even so, that 8 cylinders purrs at 80 and feels like it's holding it REALLY wants to do 180, and you're just barely budging. It's beautiful. It WAS affordable. I even gave it a name...back then. Back in the day when it.....RAN. First the AC gave out. That was the day after we bought warranty. Blahblahblah. Then one day, it would not turn on. That was Week Two. The week we got the payment book from the bank and it was too late to beg the saleman to take it back. Then it began needing more and more coolant. It drank coolant. Coolant was its beverage of choice. It developed a Coolant Fixation. It needed it. It needed a twelve step coolant codependency intervention. The habit became more and more frequent. Then the car was committed...yes there were tears all the garage. The sort of garage that was given a laundry list by a family with grim clenched jaws and even tighter clenched pocketbooks, and asked to FIX IT ALL. Oh, they promised. We paid. I drove. It was supposed to last, this happiness, yes. But I had this sick feeling, this apprehension. Had Stella (yes, that's her name) really gotten her groove back? There are so many things that go wrong with her SO frequently, she is a vehicular hypochondriac.

I'll let you be the judge. Day before yesterday, I drove 30 minutes away. This little jaunt required a full container (think BIG container) of coolant, just before heading out. I GET there. I prepare to get home. What does the little light indicate? Another ENTIRE container of coolant needed. I'd continue, but just think quantity quantity quantity and enjoy the thought that my present job requires long periods of sitting in a dependable vehicle.

And then laugh I I don't scream and cry and throw a tantrum.

A guy actually stopped me at the gas station to rave about my car. He's a collector...he loves the Taurus SHO models, etc etc. He WANTS it. (As he's talking, I'm peering past his shoulder to see if there's a conspicuous green liquid trail yet under her front tires) He wants to talk purchase...while I'm silently going over all the full disclosure lemon laws and thinking of my duty to mankind to just put this vehicle out of its misery once and for all, and I get a sudden urge to confess CONFESS all her BAD BAD THINGS. He hands me his name and number "in case I ever want to sell her." I tell him "I'll think about it."

Oh, I think about it...I fantasize about having a dependable car! At this point, to sell her for what we've spent on her would take the original used purchase price PLUS all the repairs PLUS all the repairs to come between now and when she is actually in new ownership, plus the potential attorney fees AFTER having sold her with full disclosure when some night, in the darkest hour, I find her BACK in our driveway with a sign on the front windshield demanding money back or ELSE.

So, for now, I spend time with my broke-down undependable fickle fickle fickle gorgeous little lemon car, leaning back in her leather interior, imagining what it must be like to have working airconditioning, a lighter plug, tires that cost less than $125 apiece, an engine that cools efficiently, a commute without drama....all these little thoughts I have whilst the engine is turned OFF.

I am opting out of car selecting. I have commissioned my husband to find me a no-nonsense get-it-done bastion of dependability. It will be will will chew through mud and be impervious to nails and razor wire. It will be able to haul manure, a busload of kids, a farmload of animals. And it will be able to tow....the fabulously gorgeous and defunct Lemon Car of Horrors. ;-)

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Oops, forgot to mention this in the update! We're really wanting to try to understand the permaculture concept and its applications for us better. I read one of Bill Mollison's books, and really need to get myself our own copy, since it's something we need to study to really grasp. I did a search for permaculture resources in Florida, and discovered that Dan and Cynthia Hemenway are in Florida and have a course of study online, through their Barking Frogs site.

It's cost prohibitive for us just now, but maybe not in the future. At any rate, I'd LOVE to know more! Just thought it was worth a mention.

Permaculture principles seem to really be a key to healthy soil and a beneficial design to promote a lot of diversity and abundance. I saw this online G Living video clip, called "Greening the Desert," which is an excellent example of how permaculture principles, when applied to even the most forbidding sites, can really transform the infertile to fertile. You've got to see it...amazing!

I'm also inspired by this reprinted article by Brad Lancaster I read some months ago, entitled "The Man Who Farms Water," about a Zimbabwean man who turned his small acreage in a desert-type area into a water-and-plant rich garden that meets his and his large family's needs.

Those reading roads led to many mentions of Masanobu Fukuoka, and this page of links. I first saw mention of his use of seed pellets on the Path to Freedom site, and I'm delighted to see that Stuart and Gabrielle at Permaculture in Brittany have made their own video (see their blog entry for Saturday, November 3, 2007) of their first attempts at making their own (kudos!!) I've not had the opportunity to get my hands on a Fukuoka book, but this will be on my reading plate VERY SOON!

Anyway, I'm all excited to find a permaculture resource here in Florida...and to have the opportunity to tailor permaculture principles to a property very soon :)


Yesterday was busy...went and filled out two files worth of applications for ONE job (took an hour!), and thankfully got the job...yay!! We're needing the income to continue with our goals for this next few months.

We've honed in on a property we hope to get...another yay!! I won't write more about it unless it comes to be, but we do know we love the area and are likely to buy there...another yay!! It's nice to narrow things down considerably. This is farther than we've ever gotten to having our own place, and it's really motivated us...especially my husband. He's fervently unearthing anything and everything he can think of that we'll need to help us make decisions or to use to fashion a plan, a living situation, and less dependency on things we want to cut out of our budget. Our mutual goal is to substitute things we can do ourselves for things we're currently spending monthly. We've got files going to collect ideas and resources for 1. land related legal things 2. things related to construction on the property in that particular county, permitting, regulations related to the structures we want to build -- size, meeting county standards, etc 3. the sort of house and buildings we want, how we'll build, what we'll do ourselves and what we'll contract out, floor plans, materials, siting 3. the order in which things need to be undertaken 4. how to do it from a distance, seeing that we're several hours away, and how to transition there

There's a lot more, but thankfully some of those things are things we already have a lot of ideas about. Any advice from those of you who've done this already, or are doing it now, is appreciated!

For this week, I'll be training at the new job, and have to work Thanksgiving 12 hours...ugh! And still cook for it, because this is the first year my daughter has been HERE for Thanksgiving in years, and I'm not going to pass up this opportunity, even if it's scaled down somewhat.

That's the quick scoop. I'm having to scurry around today to get some things done before training. I'm praying this is a way to pay off debts faster and get ahead the words of J..."so we're that much closer to working for ourselves on our own place!"


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Of Guest Rooms and Family Portraits

Remember the scary old sepia print portraits that hang on the bedroom walls of old bedrooms, the sort that stare at you relentlessly in the dark when you're a small child asleep at an older relative's house?

My father's father was a preacher, and though we visited rarely, when we did, their home's decor always fascinated me. Their house had many things ours didn't, a separate library, namely, where Granddaddy would study behind a large desk situated in front of a wall of bookcases, all lined with biblical texts and sets of commentaries, shelves crowded with exotic carved figurines from his many travels. I always wanted a retreat just like his, with a green-shaded desk lamp, the smell of volumes and volumes of books, the leather chair, and motes of dust dancing in the half-light. Perhaps it's from him I inherited my love of books, of solitary reading, of searching out word meanings and other treasures in biblical texts. At least that's what I love to think...

There was also a sitting room situated near the front of the house, a place where Grandmother had a little iron cart filled with her collection of African violets, windows that had drapes and sheers, wallpapered walls with large oil paintings, sofas with crocheted doily antimacassars on the arms and backs, porcelain trinkets, and antique glass lamps with colored spherical double globes.

And always, there was the ticking of grandfather loved collecting every sort. Time had a way of always passing, and Granddaddy was informed of its progress at every quarter, half, and full hour. There were wall clocks, grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, mantel clocks, serious desk clocks and fanciful porcelain clocks. Clocks of every style. Handcarved clocks, handheld clocks, metal ones, Art Deco ones, clocks embedded in elaborate or not-so-elaborate statues. There were no battery-powered clocks...they were all the hand-wound sort. Many clocks had an elaborate system of weights and pulls, and Grandaddy knew their secrets, and that they must be balanced on a completely flat surface to keep accurate time. Their tones were all different -- some slow and mellow as an old cello, some marking the hour in a rapid, tinging falsetto. That's one of my favorite memories of their home -- the ticking and chiming clocks, the slightly unfamiliar scent of someone else's house mingled with the fragrance of my Grandmother's kitchen.

It was in her kitchen I first learned the difference between storebought and REAL homemade bread. Grandmother made all her meals from scratch. It wasn't just was just the way things were done. And she did them well!

It wasn't often we enjoyed an overnight visit there, but when we did, we slept in the guest room. Proudly displayed on the walls were more paintings, but the most prominent hung in direct view of the bed always...two pastel portraits drawn of my eldest first cousins, Alan and Laura, when they were only a little older than toddlers. The portraits were quite large, nicely framed, and were Grandmother's pride and joy...likely a family gift to her in years past.

In the daytime, the portraits were just that...lifelike images in charcoal and pastel. But by night....when huddled under the bedcovers and with only the benefit of a slice of illumination coming in through the door "cracked open," they took on eerie dimensions. I'm no great fan of portraits in guestrooms. THESE portraits were downright chilling in the dark. They. Looked. At. You. No. Matter. Where. You. Were. While the clocks ticked. And ticked. And ticked.

You could hide UNDER the extra pillow UNDER the extra blanket. But you could not escape the cousins' pale gaze, at least until the welcome moment that wonderful dinner you'd just eaten, and the full day of exploring--and intermittent "behaving"-- you'd just had, worked their magic and you found yourself soundly asleep.

Most family portraits I've noticed from the early 20th century are of rather serious-faced folks. Not a lot of smiling took place in those formal shots, for whatever reason. Maybe, as it's been explained to me before, it was seen as saucy or inappropriate to smile for them. Or maybe it was because of the strain of corralling everyone in their clean Sunday best and getting them to sit still long enough for those older cameras to do their thing without flinching and blurring the photos. Or maybe it was because women were a bit grumpier in corsets and men in wool suits? Heh heh...

At any rate, my sis recently found a photo from the other side of our family tree...this photo of my maternal grandpa's sister and her friend. And it's an oldie! I just love it :) Obviously, my family is the entirely serious sort ;-)

I think it was taken somewhere in the vicinity of 1910 or thereabouts. All my forbears were originally country folk, hardworking, and family-oriented. They all came from big families, with loads of brothers and sisters, and family reunions were a noisy confusion of all their descendants.

Whenever they got together, Family was discussed...the marriages, fall-outs, intrigues...and of course the laundry list of physical ailments. But most of all there was laughter...and often singing. Both sides of my family had strong traditions and grass-roots connections to their families and their faith. All were protestant christians of a denomination with very scaled-down beliefs, even to the omission of instrumental music from their hymns. So they sang. And since you pretty much had no other way to play a hymn other than to sing it, 'most everybody had had enough practice to be pretty good at it, or at least to read music. So when gatherings happened, so did the singing...and sitting there as a child in the midst of it, warmed by soft laps and good food while everyone sings, all's right with the world and God. It's another of my favorite memories.

I posted this picture of Aunt Lois taken when she was a young girl. (She's the one on the left, sticking out her tongue, ha! ) I love that it shows her laughing! She ended up being a matriarch of my maternal grandpa's side of the family, only survived by one remaining sister, Aunt Bunny. Aunt Lois had a crackle of a laugh, a deep kindness about her, a no-nonsense demeanor, and a steely resolve. She was a strong woman. I love most that she, like her siblings, could laugh. She aged into what could be called "a handsome woman"... regal and yet down-home. She had impeccable manners, and no false "airs." She had opinions. She was nobody's doormat, and her husband and children adored her. She never forgot a birthday, no matter how remotely-related you were on the family tree, and made handmade items to send for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. She passed away, after a full and long life, adored.

I've been sent a few pictures here and there in the past few years...some of my childhood, some of my grandparents'. There are no scary portraits among them...they are all unexpected windows into the moments of their lives long before I came along. A picture of my Grandma and Grandpa grinning underneath a huge oak tree, before they were even married...two co-conspirators. A picture of Grandpa dressed up, playing the dandy in his early twenties, leaning on a Model T and foot on its running board. In them I see the younger version of my Grandparents ...having fun, full of mischief, laughing, unposed, loving, joking. It's not so different than the older version I knew, only with younger faces and different surroundings.

If I ever have a guest room set up, these will be the portraits I hang. They may not stare a person down in the darkness of night, but if their eyes do follow, they're filled with a conspiratorial twinkle, perhaps a wink. The ticking of the clock may remind of how quickly time passes, and maybe sleep will come accompanied by the memory of long-forgotten songs.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

May you each have a wonderful rest with family and friends! I'm so grateful to God for His many, many blessings, and a wonderful week.

Blog is now retired for 24 hours :)


I've recently become interested in a product I've noticed on some blogs here and there -- a natural fruit/nut from Southeast Asia called the Soapnut. Here's the source I found for purchasing them. Two to four dried berries from the Chinese Soapberry Tree are put into a small cotton sack and tossed into the washing machine instead of using commercial soap. The berries contain Saponin, which forms a natural soaping action when combined with water.

In the reading I've done, it seems there are medicinal uses for these berries as well, and you don't want to ingest them internally, but my focus is on their use for a laundry cleanser. I was drawn to statements by users of Soapnuts testifying to their usefulness as a hypo-allergenic cleanser not only for laundry, but also as a foamless shampoo and body soap. My own skin, over time, has developed a sensitivity to perfumes and chemicals in commercial soaps, and I've simplified my regimen to very basic cleansing products. My laundry soap has to be perfume-free, and I can't tolerate laundry softeners or dryer sheets. The idea of a completely natural, fuss-free berry to toss in with the laundry -- and even to re-use several times -- is really appealing.

In reading about the natural soaping action and its long-standing traditional use by native peoples, it reminded me of something I found out a few years ago when considering a move to Missouri. I was trying to find out about uses of plants used by the native Americans, and I ran across a mention of the use of Yucca roots as a laundry cleanser. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that Yucca roots could be combined with water to form an effective washwater for clothing, after which the root could be saved for further washings. I wondered why someone hadn't marketed these roots for that reason, since it seemed so straightforward, except that few people these days handwash the bulk of their laundry.

When I found the Soapnut links recently, and saw that a lot of people are using them, I wondered if there are regional Soapberry trees a bit closer to home. If so, I could plant some and have a free source for years to come. I'm in Zone 9, which sometimes is restrictive as far as being able to grow trees found further north in the U.S. I was delighted to find that there are two soapberry trees that not only can be grown here in Florida, but also in the upper 48. The Western Soapberry (Sapindus Saponaria Drummondii) is found as far Northwest as Washington state, its territory arcing across the central and southern US and up through the mid-Atlantic seaboard -- and the Florida Soapberry (Sapindus Saponaria Marginatus) is found in some parts of California, and Florida.

The berries of both species here in the U.S. have been used traditinally by native American and Central American populations as soaps. Upon further investigation, it appears that not only is this tree easy to grow and adaptable to a variety of sites and soils, but it's non-invasive and is attractive as well. I'm definately interested in finding out if I could grow this tree to eliminate our need to purchase commercial soaps, both for laundry and for household cleaning and shampoo/body cleansers. How exciting a possibility, especially since it's supposed to be an excellent hypo-allergenic soap strong enough to get really dirty clothes sparkling clean as well as gently enough to use for babies or sensitive skin!

Now I'm hot on the trail of other native plants with traditional uses similar to the Soapberry. Since Saponin is the "soap agent," a basic Wikipedia search showed a long "laundry" list (haha, pun intended!) of other plants that also contain Saponin. Does this mean some of them can also be used similarly??

Here's the Wikipedia list:

Asparagus (as
Bacopa monnieri
Chlorophytum species
Chlorogalum species, soap

cucurbit species
Digitalis (as digitonin)

Goldenrod [1]
Gotu Kola
Grape skin[2]
Gypsophila (Baby's Breath)
Panax (as ginsenoside)
saponaria (bois de Panama, member of the
Rosaceae family)
(poke, pokeweed, pokeberry, poke greens, poke root, inkberry, poke
salit, poke salad)
Soapberry and many other
members of the family
Sapindaceae, including buckeyes
(Soapwort, Bouncing Betty)
Tribulus terrestris
(as protodioscin)
Wild yam

Isn't that list interesting...that all these plants contain a natural saponins...and applications... of some sort?? I don't have time to dive in depth into investigating each one...yet. But seeing such familiar plants on this list fascinates me as to how they, too, might be utilized in ways "lost" to our "modern" world. At any rate, it would appear we DO have plenty of natural laundy options, if only we'll keep looking. Looks like that will be material for a lot of upcoming reading!

Picture link:

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Bronchitis...chicken soup time...warm blanket. No posts today but still making lots of lists with pen and paper. Hope everyone is having a great week!

I still can't believe how beautiful our last day trip was a couple days ago, going acreage hunting. We keep getting more and more optimistic with every trip! The fact that it's easing out of the 80s finally also makes it more enjoyable, plus the fact I'm with my favorite person (hubby). It's nice to actually visit some areas we've researched from a makes all the difference.

More later, when I'm feeling less achey. I'll now fall back on my old faithful Constant Comment hot tea standby. Mmmmmm :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

2nd Senator's Insta-Response to NAIS email

Here 'tis, from Senator Bill Nelson...a bit later than Senator Martinez's and a bit less clear on his position.

Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 2419, the Farm, Nutrition, and
Bioenergy Act. I am committed to providing for the needs of our agricultural
industry while also protecting Florida's environment.Congress passed the last
Farm Bill in 2002, during the 107th Congress, and many of its programs are up
for reauthorization this year. This large, complex bill authorizes numerous
projects including conservation and stewardship programs, subsidy payments to
farmers, alternative energy initiatives, and programs to stave off domestic and
world hunger. The House of Representatives recently passed a version of the bill
and the Senate is currently debating this bill on the floor. I will continue to
follow this bill closely to ensure the protection of Florida’s interests.I
have been meeting with constituents to hear more about Florida’s agricultural
needs, and I appreciate your opinions about the impact of the farm bill. I will
keep your thoughts in mind as we work through this legislation. Please do not
hesitate to contact me again.
I won't hesitate (except to get a good night's sleep first!) :)

P.S. Very long and WONDERFUL day today...started in the wee hours, lots of driving and picture taking, etc. and time with my wonderful hubby. Does it get any better?? Even so, I'm exhausted. Whatever...I LOVE looking at land! Here are a few pics...not enough to do justice to such a great day, though :)