Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August's end

There's been a hint of September in the air these last few mornings and I've been noticing a sense of urgency rising in me about the vegetable garden. Much is ripening now with the help of wide sunny days and heavy dewy nights, despite our low precipitation. Wherever I am in the garden I hear bees and birds and have to think they're also feeling the gentle but persistent nudge of autumn.
And so I've been doing a bit of "putting by" in preparation for those long, gardenless days that are bound to be here sooner than I might wish.

Three more jars of pickled beets whose color is spectacular. And green beans, stringless this time, blanched and flash frozen side by side to fill 2 cookie sheets before being bagged and set in the freezer.

Then there are the tomatoes. Until now we've been eating all we've harvested, keeping up with them pretty well. But Mother Nature is cranking up production and I can only eat so many each day. So yesterday morning early before our much needed rain I picked tomatoes. First round these 3 full containers went into the sink and I went back to the garden to look again.

And found even more tomatoes.

 Clearly I couldn't keep all of them in the sink while the work went on, so I found a large plastic storage bin in the basement, lined it with newspapers, set it on the kitchen floor and filled it up.
Then the work really began.
You can see the soup pot we had been using until now for our water bath processing. We'd been working with small batches of pint jars for our pickling projects, so it worked just fine. But clearly this wasn't going to be up to the tomato job. So I went out and bought a serious enamelware pot with rack/lifter which can handle 7 quarts at a time. Much better.
Here is the result of my first attempt at simple canned tomatoes, the genuine article. They contain only cut tomatoes with skins and cores removed, salt and lemon juice as directed by the Ball canning folks.

Unfortunately I was not home to hear the most satisfying sound:  each jar sealing itself with a most lovely "Ping!" I had been invited to join a friend for an early dinner and left the house only moments after pulling them out of the new pot. Happily all were sealed when I returned. You can see that I could have packed the tomatoes more tightly in the jars as there is juice settled at the bottom. But all in all a happy conclusion to a full day.
And the chickens were delighted as well since they were the eager recipients of any cracked, nibbled or split tomatoes I came across while harvesting. I wondered if maybe by the time I went into the house to begin the canning they were clucking among themselves "Not more tomatoes!" It didn't seem like that to me as they ran over to each as it was lobbed over their fence and went to it.
Today I'll try to get to the rest of those I picked yesterday, mostly smaller tomatoes, a longer job of skinning and coring them, but I'll give it a go. Oh, and there are plenty more tomatoes in the garden.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

an anniversary

One year ago today, August 28 2010, my journey toward creating a life on Asbury Ridge began. In a caravan of 5 vehicles, 2 trucks, 3 cars, Anne with her beloved Holden, her treasured husband Matthias, his father Richard, my son Phillip and I drove a mere 240 miles to another world. I cannot know, nor would I want to know, what thoughts occupied the other 4 drivers that perfect August day. Jerome asked me today if I was afraid that day. I replied that I am more afraid now than I was then. The reality of the undertaking was not to be truly understood until the earth had slipped once completely around the sun and I had made a full revolution on my own axis.
I find it hard to celebrate joyously when I am distant from all those I love. When all of our lives have been shaken to their very cores. When each of us has been called to take a deep look at our innermost hearts. When the future is so uncertain.
And yet
the sunsets hum tunes that vibrate at a frequency that my soul responds to
the land offers nourishment for both body and spirit
the work it takes to bring the possibilities to fruition strengthen the body as much as they tax it
the neighbors are fine and well, neighborly
the community's circle is open and inclusive and hopeful
Thank you to my dearest Jerome for his constant and total support in this endeavor. Thank you to my lovely daughter and her equally supportive husband for jumping in the deep end with me and making sure my head is above water, most of the time. Thanks to Phil for staying close to his father. Knowing he's keeping his eye on Jerome for me now is a great relief.
One year come and gone.

And now for year two...

Friday, August 26, 2011

a blooming postcard

Today I found an email from Beth Nicholls in my inbox. She teaches Do What You Love, an e-course, and also organizes an international postcard swap. This was my second time participating in the swap. Now that Kate (my recipient) has posted my card on Flickr I can share it here. These are Kate's photos of my postcard as they appeared this morning on Beth's email.

These are photos I took, not so artistic and not so well done, but large enough to get a closer look.

So often I do things, and with a great deal of reflection and care, and then when they've been given away I've moved on to the next project and I actually forget what I've done. Seeing my card on Beth's posting took me by surprise and delighted me.
One reason to blog is to help keep these things I've created alive for me. Another is to gain a perspective on my work that is clarified by a bit of distance, both in time and thought, so seeing things later, after the struggles of getting the work accomplished are over, there can be a re-acquaintance.
My niece, Sarah, is working with her photography and making beautiful personal greeting cards. I received one recently which is stunning. I wrote to thank her and tell her how glad I was that she was getting to it after wanting to for so long. She wrote back saying she would do what she loved and if it pleased her that would be enough. She wouldn't let worrying about how others would receive it get in her way of doing it.
I hope I can hold onto that idea. Thanks Beth, Kate, and Sarah for "doing what you love" and helping me to do it also.

Friday, August 19, 2011

latest postcard swap

Today I mailed my postcard to its recipient, Kate Bohles,  in Ilkley, England. Before I sent it I sent a message via email to Kate to let her know it is on its way. She replied with a lovely note that included her shop address and a link to a cross stitch site, since I mentioned I used cross stitch on the card.  I'll be posting photos of the postcard after Kate has received it. In the meantime, I thought it would be lovely to point out her shop and add a link to it on Sallymomsprouts. She is an art teacher, book creator, and the proud mother of two beautiful daughters. I hope you enjoy meeting her through her work.
The theme of this exchange was bloom. I chose a typically American summer flower, the Indian Summer Rudbeckia.  I used this photo of them from my city garden on the address side of the card.  I faded it so it wouldn't detract from the stitched side.

Oh, and I also flipped it 180 degrees.
I hope you enjoy it, Kate.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


When you were small did you ever spin around very fast, arms outstretched? Did you have your eyes open or closed? Did you get dizzy?
Often lately I've felt as if I've been spinning.  Sometimes, briefly, I catch a glimpse, but all too often my days are a blur with a pervading sense of speed and imbalance. Is it my age? my present living situation with my heart in two places?
Last week I spent some time with Jerome at our city house and my first full day there we shared nearly all of the day at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. We've been members there since I was given a gift membership by my church circle as a thank you for presenting a plant class. The CBG is often my go to place for centering.

It's my dream that eventually my go to place will be here, my few acres on Asbury Ridge. When the spinning has stopped and my heart's halves are joined, it will be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

what Dovey saw

Well, we missed yet another chance at rain over night. But farms and towns south of us had quite a storm which produced for us a brilliant light show in the hour before dawn. Restless, unable to sleep, I was drawn from my bed yet again at the sound of Dovey chattering and flinging her tail against the screen in the dining room window just off the back deck. Looking closely I spied what Dovey saw.

Not wanting to startle the little fellow I moved off to grab my camera and as I got back to the window he moved to face me. I had only time enough for one shot before he hopped away. It's not yet fully dawn so he's mostly in silhouette.

He's perched on the spout of a purple watering can that is planted with mint. The can is sitting on Anne's white cafe table just outside the window on the back deck. (Here are a couple older photos setting the stage for you.) A few days back Anne noted that Dovey had spotted this fellow on the pussy willow branches that are in a tall galvanized pail on a plant stand in the corner next to the table. Guess he just likes hanging out in the shade on the deck. Sounds like he's trying to tell us it would be a good place for US to hang out if we'd take the time to do it. Maybe tea time this afternoon??

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Small first steps.
Anne has been experimenting with canning and doing a marvelous job. I tried my hand at it this week and the result: 3 exquisite jars of pickled beets. Though not a king's ransom, I couldn't be happier. I was able to stay in the moment for the entire endeavor, really noticing the steam in the kitchen, the vinegar filling my nostrils, the click of the canning lid, the beauty of the beets in their brine.
I feel positively wealthy knowing they are waiting in our growing larder.
This season's vegetable bed has been a learning experience from every perspective. Next season I'll be able to take into account the foodstuffs I'd like to put by and plan accordingly. More than one row of beets for sure.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

sweet graces

A couple of summers back, Jerome and I took an excursion to the Fox River town of Geneva, Illinois. It's just under an hour west of our city house and one of several towns that developed along the river long ago. Today it's a tourist destination because of all the shops and restaurants. It's fun to explore. The Little Traveler was having one of its famous yard sales and I bought a great little collapsible bakers rack for my plants. This spring it went out onto the back deck here at the farm for use as a temporary greenhouse. On the bottom shelf I put a few pots of morning glory seedlings that didn't make it out to the garden. As spring faded to summer those little pots, though regularly watered, didn't make it to the top of my to do list. But the morning glories did not forget to live. And my benign neglect is now being rewarded.

It's impossible not to smile with these beauties trumpeting their good morning to you. Heavenly Blue indeed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Struggling against weeds and invasive grasses, insects, rabbits, deer, uneven rains and oppressive heat and humidity, small but significant successes have been realized. Yesterday while I was in town running errands, Anne harvested our garlic crop. Soft neck and hard neck bulbs, purchased at our in town co-op and planted at the end of October, our first ever crop here on the farm. It needs to be cured now, and we'll begin that process when the soil on the bulbs is dry enough to softly brush away. We're both very pleased with the harvest, and we imagine all the delicious uses we'll put it to in the months ahead. We had the first taste of it in our dinner last night, a stir fry of onions, squashes, kale, and garlic all harvested here on the farm.

We struggle, but Mother Nature has painted an exuberant landscape here this summer with apparent ease, in the face of the same conditions we struggle against.  Returning to the farm yesterday I stepped out to take a few photos as a reminder just how lovely are her tapestry skills.

Before I could take any photos, however, I noticed a bird sitting very still in the middle of our road.  It sat with its tiny beak open, barely able to move on the hot asphalt. It would definitely have been flattened by the next vehicle passing, so I went back for gloves and carried it to the potting shed where I placed it in the relative cool in the shade there and offered it a drink. I surely hope it recovered and went about its way.

The birds here have provided me company, music, amusement, and beauty that have sustained me in my loneliness and periodic losses of faith. I like to think I've given back in my small ways.
Often, lately, I've become a glass half empty girl, when I usually think of myself as the opposite. All it takes, though, is a conscious look around me here on Asbury Ridge to see that the glass is actually overflowing.