Sunday, July 31, 2011

Junque Yard

I know it's finally summer when I spend more time picking fruits and veggies than I do weeds. Such a great feeling to fill up a couple of bowls of NOMmies, and take it into the kitchen and prepare it for where ever it's going to go.

Yesterday I picked a bowl of cucumbers. I'm trying to pick them when they are relatively small, because last year I found that the smaller they were, the tastier and crunchier they were when I made them into pickles. The larger cukes became soggier pickles. So my plan of attack is to make smaller ones into baby dills, and any larger ones into relish. I have had a small bowl of whole baby cukes soaking in salted water in the fridge overnight.

I also picked a good size bowl of banana peppers. I think I only planted hot nanas this year. Last year, the hot nanas I got from the farmer's market were so tastey that I mixed them in with my own mild nana peppers when I pickled those. We've been eating canned nanas on EVERYTHING. hot dogs and brats, pizza, you name it. It's been awesome. I had promised to share some of that bounty with some of my internet friends, but I didn't, because the recipe I used made them pretty salty. I don't want to be responsible for anyone retaining water or getting high blood pressure from my salty nanas, so if you are still out there, and haven't defriended me for going back on my promise, I swear, You will get some this year!

I also picked some young carrots yesterday. They were 3-4 inches long, and oh so very sweet. We planted lots, and plan on planting more before frost because I can't bear to eat commercially grown carrots anymore. There is such a taste difference. I have a friend (I'm looking at your, JayBee), who loves the pickled carrots that come in canned jalapenos. I plan on canning up some of that this year, too - just reversed - more carrots than jalapenos (which I am also growing).

Then there's the beans and raspberries. The only produce that seems to be hit each year by Japanese beetles. Those creepy beetles are pretty to look at, with their iridescent brown backs and a stripe of black with white spots on either side. But they are like little zombies hanging on the leaves of my plants. Clacking at you with their little mandible. Flying at you when you brush up against them. *shudder* All they do is munch on leaves, and do what appears to be the horizontal mamba with each other out in plain sight. HAVE THEY NO SHAME? I've been making DaHubster go out ahead of me, and he swoops them into a jar of soapy water to kill them. UGH! they creep me out.

Anyway, Hubby picked a small bowl of yellow beans, and I blanched them for eating with Sunday's meal. First beans of the season, YAY!

The raspberries are winding down. They ripen so fast that it's hard to keep up with them. They seem to ripen, then go to mush within a day. I've been out there almost every day picking and picking and dodging those creepy beetles. Then I freeze them for jamming later. And no, there will be NO beetles in the jam. I prommise.

Our romas are continuing to put out plump juicy looking tomatoes, but they are still very green. I learned this week that if you freeze whole tomatoes, the peels will fall off when defrosted as if you had blanched and shocked them in cold water. This will knock off about 1/3 of the time it takes to can those puppies. So that is what I plan to do, if they ever freakin' ripen.

My bell peppers are coming along. Not much exciting there. They say you should take off the first large peppers while still green, then you can let the next set of peppers ripen to whatever color they become. So I will be picking the first bunch in a few days.

My pumpkins are a disappointment. They are flowering like mad, and I see the bees are loving them, but they are not setting fruit. The flowers are all male. I had this happen with zucchini a couple of years ago. I don't know if there is anything I can do differently to make them set female flowers or what. I need to research this. In the meantime, the pumpkin patch is doing what it normally does, sprawl all over the place with vines and giant leaves - it's starting to choke out other plants. My original plan was to see which pumpkin plants set fruit, and pull out the excess plants so that the sprawl was semi-sort of contained, but that is not going to happen. Ahh well...such is the life of an urbanite farmer here at the micro mini-ranch.  :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile

It's been interesting here at the micro-mini ranch. For the last month or so, we've been dealing with a very sick kitty. Boston is 14, and probably the most "interesting" of the herd. When you hear me complaining about being woken up at 4:30 by yowling Boston is the culprit.

He'd been loosing weight lately, which was strange because he was eating and drinking normally. The yowling was not contained to just early morning, but that was when it was the most prevalent. Then his nose got super congested. I didn't worry about a cold so much as the weight loss and constant agitation that he seemed to be in. But his nose never cleared up, and finally we decided he should go to the vet.

In recent years, he has decided that he does NOT like the vet, and gets very growly and hissy, so they have taken to knocking him out when he goes for his visits.

Xrays showed that this lungs were not congested (thankfully no pneumonia), and his other organs looked OK. Blood tests showed his liver is fine (thank God - one of my most beloved pets, Molly, died of some sort of liver disease almost 3 years ago, and it was heartbreaking). His glucose was fine, but that his thyroid was out of kilter. So the doctor sent Boston home with some pills. He was to take 1/2 of one twice a day, and they'd recheck in a month. The doctor didn't seem overly concerned about the nose congestion.

Giving a cat a pill is never a fun experience. I'm sure you've all read the old email forwards. Almost as funny as giving a cat a bath. However, we were told that it was ok to crush the pills and hide it in his food. I've been crushing the pills up and putting the powder in milk, and he's been drinking it like the treat that it is. My main problem is keeping the "special" milk away from the other cats, who are quite put out that Boston is getting a special treat, and they can't have any!

So after a month or so, Boston's stuffy nose was getting worse. He can barely eat or drink without snuffling and sneezing. He was contantly streaming goo, and has taken to running from me whenever he sees a kleenex in my hand. I even went so far as grab a baby's snot sucker in an attempt to relieve his nose of some of the crap in there. HE REALLY REALLY DOES NOT LIKE THIS! heh. I am such a mean kitty-mommy.

But then he started to run a fever. And he started hanging out in the bathroom. All the time. We could take him out of the bathroom, but he'd always go back in there. He wasn't hiding, which is a good thing, but he was not coming out of the bathroom, and he started not coming out for meals. And I became really concerned. I moved a litter box into the bathroom, along with some food and water. He appeared to be eating and using the litter box, but the fever was really bothering me.

His follow up with the doctor was a week away, but I convinced DaHubster to call and move up the appointment. They went, they knocked him out again, took more blood. The doctor was convinced that the drippy nose is a virus, and therefore antibiotics would be inefficient. He gave us a supplement in treat form that should boost his immune system to help him kick the virus.  We got his bloodwork results a day later, and his thyroid is much improved. So is the yowling. Apparently hyperthyroidism creates high blood pressure, with makes cats very agitated which results in yowling, super needy attention seeking, and the dramatic weight loss. He went from being a hefty 16 pound tomcat to being an 11 lb frail old man in a very short time.

So the pills were working, he was putting back on some weight (I am now not feeling every vertebrae when I pet him), he wasn't yowling constantly, but he's still hanging out in the bathroom, but now coming out for attention occasionally. I moved the litter box and the food out of there in an effort to get him to come out more, and it's working, but he still spends the majority of the time hanging out on the lip of the bathtub.

However, something else has happened during all this that wasn't noticed immediately. Boston has lost his hearing. Whether it was the virus, or the thyroid, or what. He is now stone deaf, and I feel awful about it. I guess I figured it out when he was coming out for meals anymore - opening a can of cat food usually brings the herd a-runnin'. But more times than not, I would have to pick him up and carry him to the kitchen. He didn't come when I called him. And he didn't turn around if I came up behind him. Again, I'm heartbroken, and I feel like a bad kitty momma. What could I have done differently? Probably nothing, but still.

I guess there's one silver lining in all of this. Boston has always been one of the more ornery cats. As he's aged he's mellowed. Now he's the sweetest. And now that he's not so needy of attention, he's more pleasant to be around. He seems to be accepting of his own hearing loss, more so than I am anyway.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile

I don't have a lot to talk about today. But I do have a general feeling of contentment that I'd like to share. DaMan and I spent the majority of yesterday deep cleaning the house, which is something I don't do enough of. Oh sure, I pick up, scour the basics, and basically try to make it so we don't live in filth, but I am not an enthusiastic cleaner.

But I have 3 cats, a dog, and a husband who works on engines for a living. Things get dirty. Yesterday we knocked back copious amounts of animal fur, scrubbed stuff that doesn't get scrubbed often enough, and it makes me feel calm. Happy. Satisfied. It's like free therapy. I should do it more often.

I've been slowly picking raspberries as they become ripe. Raspberries have an extraordinarily short time of ripeness before they go bad. Strawberries have a few days of hanging in there, so if you miss a few, or pick them and stick them in the fridge, they are OK for a few days. Not so raspberries. it's almost like they are daring you to get them before they turn. There are never enough to do anything with them but eat them immediately, which, I admit, I've done plenty of. But I wanted to try to make jam with them this year. Hard to do when you can only pick a small bowl full a day. So I've been freezing them. it is my hope that when I get enough to make a few pints of jam, they will not be too mushy. But hey, it's jam, right? you gotta mush to make jam. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Junque Yard - things growing in odd places

Earlier this week it was mentioned by an on-line friend that while she has great success with her outside garden, it's nearly impossible for her to keep a houseplant alive. I had to concur with her. I have extreme difficulty with houseplants myself. I take full credit for forgetting to water them, partial credit for owning a house that lets in very little sunlight (what the heck was I thinking?), and only survivor's guilt credit for the way my cats like to nibble on them. All of which creates a hostile environment inside for any houseplant.

My one exception to keeping an inside plant alive is a peace lily that refuses to succumb. I joke that every winter it starts its own unheard mantra: "Just 3 more months till she puts me outside for the summer." "Just 2 more months until she puts me outside for the summer.." the poor thing.

I brought it home from work about 3 years ago, maybe 4 now. It was located in the lobby, where it was over-watered religiously by another employee. It started to get root rot. It also had an infestation of little white bugs. I have no idea how this could be, as it was the only live plant in the area, and no where for those bugs to come from or go to. Anyway, it was on it's way toward dying, so I took it home to try and save it. I re-potted the poor thing, exchanging all it's soil for fresh, drying the roots and bulb by giving them an hour in the sun first.  Then I left it outside until the weather turned too cool. Peace lilies prefer low light, so I figured it would do fine in the house, seeing as that's all I had anyway. It's spot of choice is in my living room picture window, however, that is also the spot of choice for my favorite plant muncher, Celeste. She's a long haired white siamese mix with angelic looks, but is really the devil in disguise. She nibbles the leaves, she digs in its dirt. The lily is her playground. And this poor, long suffering lily puts up with that, as well as my infrequent waterings until the time comes to give it a break from it's normal dose of kitty-loving and take it outside for the summer, where it rests up, gets indirect sunlight from under the roof of my back patio area, and more frequent waterings from the hose as I water everything outside, like a caring human should.

The reason why I bring this up today is because a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that another plant had somehow moved into the peace lily's pot. Now, I've had the occasional weed or clover pop in there, which is easy enough to pluck out, but this plant didn't look...weed-like. My brain tried to tell me what it was, but I refused to believe it, and decided to let it grow and see if it was true. Well, it's grown, and it is true. My brain was correct. I have a tomato plant growing under the canopy of the peace lily.  How a seed got in there, I haven't a clue. I threw a couple of inches of potting soil in the pot when I brought it outside, but it was commercial potting soil, not a mix of soil and home grown compost. I didn't start any tomatoes from seed this year, as my aforementioned lack of natural light in the house precludes me from raising healthy seedlings (I have plans to install  a grow light system in the basement in the future, but right now I lack fundage. But I digress...). I have absolutely no clue as to how a tomato plant is growing in my peace lily.

But it is.

And it is doing quite well, too.

I also have a stalk of wild corn growing the in a seam of concrete that runs between my patio and my driveway, but that's a story for another time. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile

I woke up in a reflective mood this morning. Not exactly sure why. My hand is bothering me, which is something I haven't really talked about on the interwebz much. I like most people suffer from a mild form of carpal tunnel, but over the years, I've been dealing with (by mostly ignoring) pain and loss of strength in the place where my thumb joins the hand. It would flare up a couple of times a year, and I used various splints to immobilize it for a couple of weeks, and it would (mostly) go away. Researching the web on what might be the culprit gave me the term "Mommy thumb" basically a tendinitis in the thumb pad, cause by lifting your child repeatedly. Unfortunately, I can't blame kids on my thumb. I did blame excessive computer usage, both at work and home, as well as the fact that I read books voraciously. Holding books in one hand all the time? One wouldn't think that would be a problem, would it? Meh.

Anyway, I'm not whining about it, it's something I've lived with on and off for about 10 years. It's just that the flare ups I have have been more ON than OFF. I decided to bite the bullet, and go see a doctor about it. Xrays showed no broken bones (duh), or past fractures that might have gone undetected. He ruled it tendinitis and arthritis (I didn't even know you could see that in an Xray), approved the splint I was already using, and set me up with a physical therapist for a month of PT to see what happens.

The PT, Jenny, is super nice, and her evaluation differs from the doctor's slightly. After feeling around the area deeply (ouch), she announced that it was more likely that I've lost most of the spongy material between the joints in my thumb and hand that cushion the bones, causing said bones to grind together constantly. Because those spongy areas are gone, there's a lot of room in there, causing the tendons and ligaments to flop around, and the muscles in my hand are trying desperately to pick up the slack, which is what is causing the constant cramping and soreness.

There aren't a lot of options to "fix" the problem. After I finish my PT, injections will probably be next. Reading up on it, it's a temporary fix to alleviate pain, but does nothing to fix the problem. There is a surgery available, that involves cutting away portions of the bone and replacing it with man-made cartilage to mimic what I've lost. I'm not fond of either option, but what can you do when you have lost your "pinching mechanism" and holding items in your hand causes it to shake and drop things?

There's no real reason for telling all of this, except I woke up thinking about the things I can't do anymore. Making jewelry is the biggest loss for me right now. I can't hold my pliers steady or for long periods of time, which is crucial to the type of work I did. I'd love to be able to get that back. It hasn't affected my gardening, which is why you mostly hear me talk about that these days. I can weed and pick just fine with the other hand. Cleaning and cooking have taken a hit lately, because I have difficulty carrying large heavy pots and pans.

I still read like the devil, though...I've just traded my heavy books for a Kindle. I think I probably read more than ever!

So, we will see what happens. Thanks for listening to an old broad whine about her white girl troubles. :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pictures from the Junque Yard

Raspberries, almost ripe for picking.
In the background are bush cucumbers, in the middle are hot banana & jalapeno peppers, and in the foreground are carrots.

A bumper crop of tomatoes are well on their way.  Carrots are in from of the tomatoes. The book was right, tomatoes do love carrots.  :)

Close up of the banana peppers, they grow up so fast. *wipes tear*
Potatoes in a can.  LOL. Not really, but that's what it looks like.
Bush Beans just at the blossom stage. Pretty little purple flowers become delicious wax beans (yeah, I don't normally like wax beans either, but they taste way different out of the garden)


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Junque Food & Junque Yard....Strawberries!

I didn't put in a reference point. What you are looking at is a HUUUGE bowl of strawberries. (duh, I mean you can see they are strawberries, but how big the bowl is -  is unclear. It's large. Trust me.)

It's always been a goal of mine to produce enough strawberries to make jam. Each year, I never think I'm going to, so I just eat them raw. Which is fine. There is nothing more perfect than a ripe strawberry just picked from your own stash. I've grown enough to make strawberry shortcake (I prefer Bisquick's Classic shortcake recipe for the biscuits) in the past. but mainly, I like to eat them fresh and whole. Taking a handful to work for breakfast is a sure way to have a great day.

That said, I've always wanted to make jam from my own berries. I've done it with store bought berries with absolutely fine results. But the news articles out there lately say that strawberries are one of the most pesticide laden commercially grown foods out there, along with celery, peppers, etc. The skin on the berries is so soft the pesticide sinks in, and sometimes normal washing isn't enough to get it off. Plus, you never know how long ago they were picked, how long they've been sitting in a warehouse, or on a truck, etc.

DaHubster's Aunt Carol makes a freezer jelly that is beyond great. every year we get a jelly jar from her, and it always goes way too fast. I want MORE! I want my own.

Actually, the last time I made strawberry jam, it didn't set up so well. It was incredibly runny, more like a strawberry sauce with chucks of berries in it. It's excellent stirred into yogurt or on top of ice cream. It did not go to waste, that's for sure.

Enough tangents..back to the point. I did a dumb thing, and assumed I wouldn't have enough strawberries for jam this year. LOL. I had about a half of of quart picked, and went to the farmer's market, where only one vendor was selling berries. At $4.50 a quart. That's not a bad deal, since most grocery stores sell theirs on sale for 2 for %.00 a pint. These berries were HUGE, and some of them were not quite ripe, which if not so diplomatically said out loud, and very kind offered to let me pick my own out of their stash behind the counter. I was embarrassed, though, sure they were thinking that I was one of the hard to deal with customers. I just took the best looking quart I could see on the table.

Then I went home and picked my own strawberries, and I could see that the quart I got at the FM was NOT needed. I had so many, that I had to inside to get a bigger bowl.  I picked until my legs were wobbly and my back hurt from bending over so much. then I sent DaHubster out to pick the rest that were ripe enough. Giant bowl. Huge amount of berries.

I should have picked first, *then* gone to the market.

Ah well, live and learn. I have a ton of strawberries, and there will be jam. And 3/4's of it will be from my own garden.

I can live with that.  :)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile - Book Review

I just finished a book that I've been wanting to read for a long, long time. Starting Over by Jackie Clay. I doubt you'll find it on Amazon, though I haven't looked. Someone might be selling a used copy of it there.  Jackie Clay is a writer and contributor of one of my favorite mags: Backwoods Home Magazine. If you haven't checked it out, and are interested in sustainable living, please do so! BHM has taught DaHubster and I many ways to cut our budget, get us started on being prepared for emergencies, and how to enjoy more while living with less. Definitely worth a looksee.

But back to Jackie. She writes articles for the magazine, mostly about her trials and successes in living on a homestead in northern Minnesota. She helped build her own home, gardens like a fiend, and cans her own veggies and meat. She keeps goats and horses, took care of her ailing elderly parents, raised at least 3 sons, lost a husband, and faced a battle with cancer. She is a miracle. Through it all, her message is, "do what you can, taking small steps if you have to." It's a very inspirational book. I don't know that I can aspire to *be* Jackie Clay, but I can marvel at her, and want to do my best to if not follow in her footsteps, take my baby steps behind her.

Jackie Clay also writes an advice column and blog: Ask Jackie Clay. Her knowledge of canning and gardening is immense, and the advice she gives is both wise and kindhearted. I love to read her stories, and I thought you might, too.

You can buy her book at the BHM website at:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Musings from the Junque Pile

Happy Sunday! Happy Independence Day Eve! (???)

What a difference a day makes. The humid has ramped down, and it's a balmy 70 degrees this morning at the micro-mini ranch. A day when one might want to fling open the windows and let the breeze in. Well, maybe. I have to see how much the temps will climb later today. LOL

It seems that my weekends have become reversed. Saturdays are the days one usually try to get their cleaning and errand running done, with Sunday being the traditional "day of rest." I find that the older I get, the more Saturdays have become the day of relaxing and unwinding after the week of work struggles and drama. Sundays then become the frenzy of cleaning and cooking for the week.

I'm not saying I was a complete bum yesterday, but I will admit to a nap in the afternoon.

This being a three day weekend (YAY!), I don't feel as rushed as I would normally. However, if I want to relax and have some fun, today's the day for doing, if you know what I mean. I have a living room full of animal hair encrusted furniture that if they don't get vacuumed in the immediate future, will soon animate themselves and start shedding on their own. And probably begging for food.

I really need to take down the bird feeders, wash and refill them. Or I'm going to start losing some of my favorite birdie customers.

Weeding is always needing to be done out on the back 40 (that's inches folk - it's a micro-mini ranch for a reason). And I really REALLY need to move some of my colder weather crops (lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, etc) into a shadier location so that they don't die in the upcoming heat of summer.

And I need to come up with breakfasts and lunches for the week. If I don't, we will be sneaking off the fast food joints, and spending money that we don't have to fill the void.

I'm not complaining, but I am listing some of this stuff as a way to keep me honest. Everyone gets into a "I don't wanna do it" mood occasionally, and lets things slide. I've been there for awhile now - just doing the minimum to keep going, or "keep up appearances." I need to boot myself in the behind and get on top of things. Besides, I'm not such a psycho hose beast when the house is relatively clean, there's good food in the fridge, and more growing outside, and the place looks less like a tornado hit it (technically, it was more of a heavy duty windstorm that hit a few days ago, but unfortunately, I can't blame the weather for my lack of tidying, can I?...yes, I can.)

All right, then. Someone needs to come hide my Kindle, and yell at me if they see me playing games or posting delicious recipes that I find on Face Book.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Junque Yard & Junque Food

Hot and muggy. Wow what a change from the cold, rainy spring. I'm giving all kinds of props to DaHubster, who fixed our AC this past week. The man is a mechanical genius.  I can sweat it outside for a bit while I write this on my laptop (any spelling errors are due to the fact that I can't see the monitor outside), and then go inside and cool off. Then sweat some more as I start cleaning.

The veggies are finally starting to grow. The poor tomatoes have finally started to leaf out and I spy a few blossoms! The pepper plants all have blossoms or teeny tiny little baby peppers on them. It always cracks me up, the first little peppers on a plant that never looks big I  enough to support any weight. But the more you pick, and the hotter it gets, the more it grows. I love growing peppers.

The pumpkin "patch," a laughable term, as the pumpkins are squeezed into the corner of one raised bed. They are supposed to take up a huge amount of room, but I don't have the space, but I wanted my own sugar pumpkins for baking this year. I put them next to a fence, and will encourage them to grow up by adding a trellis. You can net the fruit so that it will grow supported and not drag down the vine. Keep your fingers crossed that that little experiment succeeds. These little guys have grown about 4 inches in the last week.

The potatoes have also grown. DaMan lobbed several inches of straw on top of them last weekend, and we feared that we over did it, and the straw would smother them. NOPE! They are growing up fine through the straw.

The strawberries are in the middle of their productive period. I've picked two bowls of these wonderful berries, and we've been eating them straight out of the garden. I've never enough to make my own jams. Instead I buy quarts from the farmer's garden to make jams. Occasionally, I get enough to make a strawberry shortcake, though I mainly just like them for picking and eating. Honestly, if there's nothing more perfect than an exactly ripe strawberry, I don't know what it is.

The raspberries continue on their journey. Staking them up was the idea I'd had in ages. it's going to be so much easier to pick them this year than last.

The loofa experiment is progressing slowly. The seeds have sprouted, and there are close to a dozen or so seedlings popping up in their container. I need to trellis them as I will the pumpkins. Scrubbies here we come!

The sugar snap peas are nearing their end. I'll plant another round in August for a fall crop. Love me some sugar snaps! BTW, I made 2 pints of that pickled sugar snap pea recipe that I talked about last week. AND THE ARE FABULOUS!!! I added a touch more red pepper flakes than the recipe called for, and they are wicked spicy, tangy with with the vinegar and other spices. So very good. You should try them.

I noticed that we do have peaches this year. Last year we had a bumper crop, and made peach preserves until we were sick of it. I'm told that peaches don't produce heavy quantities every year. I guess they are a lazy tree.  This is also an older tree, how old, I have no idea, it came with the house. But we've lived here for four years, and have only had 2 big years. I counted 6 peaches other night. They are slightly larger than olives at this point. We'll see how many others are hiding in there.

OK, its getting too hot out here, I'm going back inside...  :)