The house I grew up in was surrounded by trees. There was the “orchard” in the back yard: two purple plum trees, two yellow plum trees, an apple tree and a pear tree. On the property line were 3 or 4 big cherry trees and a hazelnut tree. The apple tree had a big old branch that ran parallel to the ground that became a horse or a magic carpet or whatever imaginary fancy we needed it to be. At the Bay we played in the woods all the time and always had forts or castles, and roamed around for morel mushrooms and Easter lilies in the spring and blackberries in the summer. Trees were always around, no matter where we lived. I didn’t truly appreciate them until we moved to the farm when I was in my 20′s.
Oh, we do have trees. Big old oak trees that were planted by some of the first white settlers over 100 years ago are scattered around the prairie. A few old apple trees that don’t produce anymore except enough for the birds show where there were houses once upon a time that have been gone so long that’s all there is left of them. Out back behind the barns there’s a relatively new forest of cottonwood and maples where the deer, elk and bears hang out. But there were no trees around my little house, and I missed them. I missed the shade in the summer and the sound of the wind whistling through the tree tops in the winter. I felt so exposed. The first year we must have planted 10 trees, most of which died quickly because I didn’t know how to plant trees in our wet clay soil. It made me feel a little better to see the remaining baby trees growing outside but it didn’t quench my thirsting to be surrounded by trees once again. I would go places surrounded by tall trees and it would feel so refreshing and comfortable. I longed for my own little nest in the trees.
I don’t know when things changed. One day I was at a friend’s house in the woods and it was windy. I noticed how uncomfortable I felt with those big trees swaying around over me, and how vulnerable it seemed that I couldn’t see the sky to tell what might be headed my way. I was relieved to get home and watch the western horizon to see the weather coming in. Before we moved to the farm I never knew there were so many stars in the night sky. I love watching the tall grass waving in the warm summer wind and trying to guess the incoming weather by the clouds blowing by. We aren’t as wide-open as the prairie states in the Midwest, after all we have our views of Mt Rainier and Mt St Helens, and the woods behind the barns stop the view to the north but the foothills on the other sides are the only things that block my view of the sky.
Today has been a wet, windy day. March is roaring in like a lion, gusts hitting the side of the house and making the windows rattle and sending the dog scrambling under the bed because it scares him. The cat is sitting almost on the keyboard, supervising my typing speed. Then, like magic, the sun comes out bright and strong, the cat runs to sit on the windowsill in hopes that it will stick around for a while and the dog creeps out from under the bed. Five minutes later, another big gust and the cat loses interest in the windowsill and the dog is under the bed again. And I’m sitting under the cat, under the nice, warm laptop computer, watching the sky to try to guess what the weather will be like by the clouds blowing by. I can see the rain coming across the field to the south, and it’s a good soaker because I can barely see the treeline on the other side. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
1. I have leftover yarn from making thick socks and more leftovers from a sweater that are practically screaming at me to be used up. Using up leftovers makes me feel frugal, and I love to feel frugal. Then I can splurge every now and then. Then I’ll have more leftover yarn, which I will use up and feel frugal, then I can splurge. Etc.
2. The weather is going to turn relatively cold. Highs in the 30′s and sunny, which will mean the kids will want to wander outside a bit. I might even wander outside a bit, if I don’t have anything to knit.
3. Knitting is so predictable. Knit, knit, purl, purl. Repeat enough and you get a cuff. Knit, knit, knit, knit. Throw in some increases and you get a place to add the thumb while you’re knitting the hand. Knit, knit, knit. The hand is done, pick up stitches for the thumb, a few more rows and voila! A mitten. Made with love in every stitch. So predictable. Follow the directions, get a mitten. If only the rest of life could provide that kind of satisfaction.
5. Knitting probably keeps me sane, though it might drive others the opposite way.
6. Knitting “necessities” like mittens makes me useful.
7. My cat likes to supervise my knitting. It makes him feel useful. It also makes him slightly crazy, because he knows he mustn’t touch the yarn, or play with the yarn, or chew on the yarn, because that makes Mom crazy. Crazy Mom is way less fun than playing with yarn. Smart cat.
8. Knitting doesn’t generate a mess like cooking, and knitting keeps your hands busy so it’s hard to snack.
9. Knitting is fun. Bears repeating.
Now where did I put those Hershey bars?
By today’s standards we have a large family. We do get looks and comments when we go out in public at times. My husband the farmer is 6’6″ and a big boy, and my gorgeous teen-age daughters are all what some would call “stately”, while others would call them “Amazons”. The youngest is 12 and she’s been taller than me for a year. But I’m not here to talk about them! They can wait for some other day. We’re here to look at critters.
First off, we have a farm. More specifically, we have a chicken farm. To further categorize, we grow fryers, the ones you find in the meat section at the grocery store. My father-in-law has been a chicken farmer since the late 1950′s and boy, have things changed since then. Vertical integration, corporate policies that create corporate-sized headaches, the price of propane… But I’m not going to talk about that. Not today. I’m trying to maintain my “zen”. Anyway, the largest proportion of critters we have are chickens (or should that be “is chickens”? Grammar…) Right now, we have about 150,000 of them. That’s a lot. In an average year we grow close to a million chickens. That’s a whole lot. We’ve had our farm for 20 years now, so that means we’ve grown about 20,000,000 chickens and you have eaten them. For that I thank you. I don’t have any photos of the little darlings, because you see the chickens that are our total responsibility and that we are totally on the hook for financially until they are taken to the processing plant are not our property. I need to get permission to take photos the chickens on my own farm. My zen is crumbling, so I must leave the whole chicken subject. Someday you will understand.
We also have a small herd of cattle. Today there are 14 of them, but they sneak babies in on us sometimes so that number could grow any time. We have 2 jersey cows and the rest are Angus. The cow in this little picture is Spot, and that baby of her’s is less than an hour old. Spot is the best momma cow we have, but Spot is also the most dangerous cow we have. She has chased me over the barbed-wire fence and dented our truck trying to kill me. She tolerates Stu, but then again he feeds her and I don’t. You don’t mess with Spot. You don’t hardly dare to look at her. We’d better move on for your own safety.
For the last two summers we’ve grown out 5 wiener pigs. They are the cutest things when we get them! By the end of summer they’re these monstrous hungry things that would like nothing more than to eat us, so off to Freezer Camp they go. I’m glad they don’t stay cute, it would make the freezer camp part much more difficult. This reminds me, we’d better get to work on the pig pen. Add it to the list. Right after we get the tiller repaired and get the plow down here from the Orting farm. And cook dinner…
You’ve got to love animals to have a farm, and if you love something you take good care of it. You don’t want to see anything bad happen to it, until the day that it’s time to go. And most often they go to become food for us. Until then, their life is wonderful and easy. I’ll admit, until the last 10 years or so when we started growing all our own meat (except chicken and that subject is for another day), I couldn’t imagine killing something on purpose that you’ve taken care of and spent time with, and then eat it. The first batch of pigs we raised I made the mistake of making them into pets, at least to me. I really loved them. It was fun to watch them play and run around, and I knew which one liked to have its ears scritched and which one would rather have a tummy rub and I named them. And I cried for a couple of hours when we slaughtered them. Last summer I didn’t name them. They were still happy and ran around and played, and they were fun to watch. And I found the balance.
Coming up, our non-edible animals, A.K.A pets.
Happy 12th Birthday!
Today my youngest, Lily, turns 12. Wow! While part of me is waxing a bit nostalgic that my baby is 12, the rest of me is saying “Wooooohooooo! My baby is 12!!!!” Lily, I love you so very much, and you are growing up into a lovely young woman. Be strong, be sweet, be smart, and be yourself. You don’t need to be anyone else.
In honor of your birthday, I composed a little message for you:
Love and smoochies,
I was going to try to post recipes only on Sundays, however, if I don’t tell you about this bread I just made and stay away from the kitchen, I’ll just eat the whole darn batch. “My name is Judy and I’m a bread-a-holic” *Hi, Judy* Here’s what we’re making:
Don’t you wish you were here to smell it? If you were, I’d make you clean up and do dishes, so be careful what you wish for. Here’s the recipe:
- 2-1/4 Cups lukewarm water
- 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 1/4 Cup honey
I put these in the bowl of my Bosch mixer with the dough hook, put the LID on (I absolutely positively ADORE the lid!) and mix these three things up. If you don’t have a Bosch mixer, don’t hate me because I do. You see, I am the kind of cook who needs a lid on my mixer so I actually have some dry ingredients left in the bowl after I turn it on. I’m also a bird magnet with my car and they run into me left and right when I’m driving. That’s a whole other topic that I probably shouldn’t go into. After the yeast has gotten happy and thrown a party with the water and honey, it will get foamy. Then you’re ready to add the next ingredients:
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 Cup rolled oats
- 1 Cup whole wheat flour
- 5 Cups all-purpose or bread flour
- 1/4 cup canola or light olive oil
With the Bosch, you just dump it in, put the lid on and let ‘er rip. I mix it on “1″ until it all comes together and then check the dough. Turn off the mixer and take off the lid and feel the dough. If it is really sticky, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time. If it isn’t the least bit sticky, add lukewarm water, again about a tablespoon at a time. Your dough should be slightly sticky without leaving much on your hand when you test it. Today I had to add a bit of extra water once it came together, last week I used exactly the same recipe, exactly the same amounts but had to add a bit of flour to make it juuuust right. Once it is the right consistency, put the lid on and turn the mixer to “2″, and let it work for about 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, take the dough out and put it in a large, greased bowl, turning to coat the dough. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and leave it in a warm place to rise. I put my bowl next to the coffee maker to keep it warm. Let it rise about an hour, or until you stick your finger in and it leaves a dent without springing back. The rising time is really dependent on your yeast and your kitchen temperature.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it in half. Today I used one half to make a loaf, and the other half to make Pioneer Woman’s Buttered Rosemary Rolls. To make a loaf, spray your counter with non-stick cooking spray. This works way better than flour because floured dough won’t stick to itself and you’ll end up with big air-holes in the loaf. Put the lump of dough on your sprayed counter and turn it over. Grab your favorite rolling-pin (mine’s marble – love it!) and roll the dough into a rectangle about 10″x15″. Roll it up, not too tightly but not too loosely, starting at a narrower end. Pinch the end of the roll to seal it, turn it so the seam is at the bottom and then gently karate chop the ends of the roll and fold under toward the middle of the bottom, pinching again to seal. Place in 9″x5″ greased loaf pan, cover with that same clean towel and let rise about 30-45 minutes.
For the rolls, I divided the remaining dough in half (2 pieces), divided each of those pieces in half (four pieces), divide each piece again in half (8 pieces), and again (16 pieces). I’ve found doing it this way gives me much more uniform-sized rolls. I rolled them on the counter until they were nice and round, and put them evenly spaced to give them room to rise in a well-oiled 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Let rise 30-45 min. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle with rosemary. I only had dried rosemary but I’m going to use fresh next time, hopefully. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt, and then more butter.
Bake the bread @ 350F for 30-35 minutes. I usually have to put a foil tent on mine for the last 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t get too brown. Bake the rolls @ 400F for 15-20 minutes or until beautiful golden brown. If you only have one oven, you can put half of the punched-down dough in the refrigerator while the other half is being formed and rising, then when you put the first part in the oven, take the dough out of the fridge, form it and let it rise while the first batch is baking.
When you take the bread out of the oven, turn it out of the pan right away onto a cooling rack or the bottom crust will get soggy. Same with the rolls. I’m not sure they’ll last long enough today to get soggy.
These rolls are amazing. I’m almost sorry I made them because I’ve already eaten two.
The bread makes great sandwiches, it isn’t too sweet and it’s nice and soft. I’ve got a confession. It’s not about me, it’s about my kids. I’m almost ashamed to say it though… I’ll just whisper it. <My kids like store-bought bread better than homemade.> Rats, I was expecting catharsis with that admission, and all I feel is shame. I need a hug. But don’t hug me if I don’t know you, that freaks me out. Yes, my children will turn up their nose at homemade bread in favor of the cheapest, grossest white bread. Must be some kind of genetic throwback or something, but I love them anyway.
So now that I feel all weird about admitting my shortcomings to you, I’m going to drown my sorrows in a Buttered Rosemary Roll. And go find my fat pants. C-ya.
The house I grew up in sat on 2 lots in our little town. It was an old house back then, and when it was built it was probably on the very edge of town. The backyard had an old chicken coop, a “fruit house” that was like a above-ground root cellar, and many old fruit trees. One of them was an apple tree.
Three seasons of the year this apple tree was our play-house and our horse (one of the main branches ran parallel to the ground and was big enough for us to sit on). In the fall, though, it was a job. My sister Kim and I would go out and pick up apples almost every day. If we missed a day the darn yellow-jackets would find the apples and try to kill us for taking their food. Once we picked up the apples, Mom would make and can applesauce with Red-Hots melted into it so it was a lovely shade of pink, and on special days she would make this apple pie.
My apple tree now is only about 5 feet tall and kind of sad. It’s all bent over from having too many apples on it a couple of years ago, but it’ll probably look cool 50 years from now if it makes it that long. The apples it produces are great to feed the cows but not good for much else. Oh well. Maybe someday it’ll make enough good apples to make a pie. I can hardly wait!
Never Fail Pie Crust – makes enough for 2 double-crust pies
- 4 Cups flour
- 1 Cup shortening
- 1 Cup butter
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- between 1/3 – 1/2 Cup cold water
Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Using pastry cutter, cut in shortening and butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, beat the egg, then mix in vinegar and water (the amount of water is variable. For me, if the weather is hot or humid, I use 1/3 cup of water. If it’s winter and dry from the heater running, I use 1/2 cup. It just kind of depends.) Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Then I divide the dough into 4 pieces and put each piece in a zip-type bag and pop them in the refrigerator while I’m making whatever pie filling I’m craving. You can also put the dough in the freezer if you’re not planning on making more than one pie, and it’ll keep for about 2 months if it’s well wrapped.
Dutch Apple Crunch Pie - This Dutch apple pie is different than most, because it has a top crust and then the sprinkles on top of that. It is oh. so. good.
- Pastry for one double-crust pie
- 6 Cups peeled, cored and sliced apples
- 3/4 Cup sugar
- 1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp butter
Combine all ingredients and place in pastry lined 9-inch pie pan. Put on top pastry and cut vents in top. Add Crunch Topping:
- 1 Tbsp shortening
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
Mix above ingredients together with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over top pie crust. Bake at 425F for 10 min. Leaving pie in oven, reduce heat to 350F and bake for 30-35 minutes or until nicely browned. Depending on your oven, this could take from 25 – 45 minutes, so rather than go by the time given keep a good eye on it and bake it as long as it needs to be baked. Cool and serve. In my house we let it cool until it’s just slightly cooler than lava, and serve it with vanilla ice cream.
Oh, my goodness. I want apple pie. I REALLY want apple pie. I hope you like this as much as we do!
We named her Caitlin Mary, called her Caitie. Caitie was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), so her lungs were very small. Too small. After a great struggle to live, Caitie died when she was 10 days old. I had never loved anything as much as her. Only a mother can love that much. My heart felt permanently broken. I wanted to die, too.
Then, I couldn’t have imagined that life could ever be good again. But life is good. We have been blessed with four more daughters. The open wound on my heart left by Caitie’s death has pretty much healed over, but every year on her birthday I can’t help but try to imagine what life would have been like with her here. And I cry.
I would have had five girls, someone older than Abby to boss her around. Maybe she would have liked math like I do, maybe she would have played the piano like I wish I could. Or maybe she would have been so sick all the time we wouldn’t have been able to have more kids. Maybe life would have been a physical hell for her.
God knows why she was sick, why she had to live through that, why we have to live out our lives missing her. I no longer feel like asking Him, “Why?” It is the way it is. And I know it’s OK to miss her on her birthday.
Every year on her birthday, I listen to this song and wonder how in the world whoever wrote this got in my head and wrote down my thoughts.
So Happy Birthday, Caitie-bug. Today we will celebrate and remember the day a wee little girl was born, and the day we knew what it was to love our own child. And we thank God for every minute you were here. We love you.
Yesterday was good and bad. Good because I got to see Dick and spend the day with Mom. Bad because I did all that at the hospital. When I got there I had to go to the ICU to visit him, which frankly gives me a bad case of PTSD. More on that tomorrow. He was awake and alert and seemed glad to see me. I said, “Hey, it’s My Favorite Martian!” because with the big drain tube sticking out of his head, this is what he looked like, except for the orange sky and green sparkly shirt:
He liked my joke about needing to go to the hospital like he needed another hole in his head. Then he fell asleep in mid-sentence. Being sick is hard work. Being that sick is very hard. Later on, they took the tube out because it wasn’t doing any good. So for now, we wait. What are we waiting for? Honestly, he’s not ever going to be better. Barring some miracle, which I know can happen, he will be as sick as he is now until he dies. And that sucks.
In light of life sucking today, it is a minimal homeschool day, a minimal housework day, a minimal thought day. It is an I-wish-I-could-trade-places-with-someone day. I want to go outside and lay in the tall, tall grass, feel the warm sunshine and just look up at the blue sky and pretend that nothing else exists. But the ground is cold and wet, the grass isn’t very tall and the sky is cloudy. Life as it is exists. The kitchen is horrible after me being gone for 3 days in a row. It seems that children forget how to do chores unless you are there to supervise. But I don’t want to nag them today. I want to be like Ferdinand, at the end of the story. If only for a while. Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow.
Another morning, another cup of coffee, another oatmeal scone (and probably another after that), and another trip to another big city today. This one, not so much fun. My step-dad, Dick, is in the hospital again. His health issues are numerous, and this time he’s in because his brain is being bad. He has a bleed going on and last night they did brain surgery to put in a couple drains to relieve pressure. This is tough on my Mom, naturally, so I’m going to go up to Olympia and hang out with her today at the hospital. After two days off the farm this week already, I’m behind on EVERYTHING I’m supposed to be doing and this is going to put me even farther back, but you can’t exactly schedule things like this now can you?
One of my huge character defects is that when I get stressed, everything gets funny. In a really sick sort of way. Like today, I know when I see my step-dad, I’m going to say, “Hey, Dick, you needed another trip to the hospital like you needed a hole in your head!” Good thing he’s known me for 25 years and has had that long to learn to ignore me. (Unlike you, poor thing.) Sarcasm and sick humor are like a reflex in me, I don’t need to generate them, they just come pouring out. Like 2 years ago when my then-79-year-old father-in-law, in a freak accident, got knocked off his tractor which then proceeded to run him over. He got up and walked away from it, I kid you not, pretty sore for a couple of weeks and quite humble, but otherwise unscathed. Once I found out he was going to be OK, I was so relieved! Then, a song ran through my head which I unwisely shared with my husband, who, at the time, didn’t think it was very funny though he’s mildly amused by it now. You know the old Christmas classic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”? My head turned it into “Harold Got Run Over by a Tractor”, and it would have been even better if we were John Deere people (“Harold Got Run Over by a John Deere”) but we’re International people. *sigh*
So today I’m really going to try to rein it in, and if he’s doing bad there won’t be any use for humor. I do have some manners. I hope today is kind to you, as I hope it is kind to me and mine. I hope he’s doing so well that tomorrow I can stay home and catch up on everything, like making laundry soap. I’m almost out. I’ll just tell everyone to not get dirty until this settles down. My parting shot: