Friday, May 29, 2009

On Being a Logging Widow

First, I had to share the beautiful roses with you. Unbelievably, the whole bouquet only cost a dollar. As I was walking into the grocery store the other morning, there were two shopping carts of bouquets at the front door, all marked down to a dollar. The clerk explained that their due date had come, and so they had to mark them down. Some of them were in very good shape for aged flowers! I bought the roses and another bouquet to surprise someone. What a bargain.

The Mister is abandoning me on Saturday for a sawmill expo in West Virginia. That's fine, he was more than flexible while I cavorted with my guest a few weekends ago. Besides our "day jobs", my husband grows trees at a managed wood lot (think strategically-planned forest) which he then harvests for wood fuel and timber. Hence the interest in sawmills and all things wood-related. If you wanted to classify it as farming, it would be tree farming, with our harvest being timber and fine woods.

It seems that in late spring, all of the forestry expos start up at once to take advantage of the milder weather. Since most of these things involve log splitters and other heavy machinery, it stands to reason that much of it needs to take place in the outdoors. And they are always located at least five hours away, so it is always so that I am home alone for an entire day.
"It's not too late. You could still stay home," I say teasingly.
"It's not too late, you could still come with me!"

Ach! No thanks! How terribly boring. Yes, there are women who go with their husbands, sometimes pulling the children along in a Berlin wagon. But they can't fool me, I know they are bored. I would rather keep the wheels turning here and stay up waiting with a re-heatable supper.

About once a month, The Mister will go out to the hydraulics shop in Lancaster on business, and it always works out that I cannot go with him. Not that it's so terribly far that I could not go to the county on my own if needed. Lately I've gotten smart and started sending along a shopping list. "If you pass a Dutchway store..."

In the winter I become a different type of sawmill widow. When the woodland floor is hard and dry, and the cold is sharp and biting, you might find my husband spending whole days out there working on logging projects while I am once again "home alone on the prairie" as I like to say. An exaggeration, of course. There's too much to do here to even think about being alone. And in the grand scheme of vices a man could have, there are ones much worse than trees.

In the Garden: Peas are finally here, ready for the harvest starting now. With all of our cut-lettuce and big heads or Romaine, we've been enjoying endless fresh salads. According to the booklet that came with our everbearing strawberries, they are not suppose to be producing this early on their first year, but somehow have small green fruits. Wonder what I did wrong...

In the Kitchen: Haven't decided whether or not to start canning sweet cherries. My husband prefers the tart ones that ripen in July, but my best pie is made with the sweet.

Still Reading: A Time to Live, by Jerry Eicher. A fictionalized account of the failed Amish settlement in Honduras. And for fiction, it has a lot of accurate details. Some of you would be able to pick out whose who. Good story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Strawberry Season

Okay readers, how many of you can appreciate just how enormous this strawberry is? Before you ask, no, we did not grow it. It is an organic berry from California which I bought at the market. All of the berries in the quart container were the same size as this one, so there were only about five or so in the pack. It was so beautiful that it was almost a pity to cut these up for the strawberry rhubarb dessert I made for a picnic. But that is what I did, and it was delicious!

Well. It was a lovely weekend of chores, family, and friends, but my secret mission was to actually get some decent rest. Alas, it did not happen. One evening, in the dead of night, we were awoken by the sound of a dozen rowdy Jewish Orthodox youth who had congregated under the street light in front of our house for a rousing good time. No, I couldn't make this up. About a dozen young men in white shirts and Hasidic hats, and one modest young lady were having a full-fledge party on the street in front of our house. Good for them, I thought. I can recall being a rowdy modestly-dressed youth once, too.

But that was just the warm up. On Saturday, after the sun went down and their Sabbath was officially over, a boisterous pool party was had up the road at the house where they were staying. The house with the in-ground pool, diving board and slide. Whoops and hollers and screams for hours, no holding back. I kept imagining them in swim trunks and their big black hats going down the slide. Again, I could only think, good for them.

It was with minor relief that I saw them put suitcases into a van on Sunday to head back to where ever they came from. They'll be back, as the next house over sits vacant most of the year until the summer when it comes alive with the owner's extended family who come to visit.

Yet our final nights of rest were marred by the dogs barking at trucks driving back to the fields to mess around with irrigation, even at midnight. The farmers have been very active in the back fields recently, and the dry conditions we've been experiencing are probably cause for lots of activity.

In the Garden: A farmer helped me out by giving me the name of the only chemical that kills that stupid beetle, the one that was eating all our tomatoes. I hated to spray anything on our plants, but I'm a realist and it was quite apparent that there would be no tomatoes at all if something wasn't done. Sure enough, the prescription is working. There was already some loss, but I've been planning more of a corn year than a tomato one anyway. Other than that, peas are coming in soon and everything looks great. Tons of labor = not a weed in sight.

In the Kitchen: More jam, and delicious strawberry rhubarb desserts. We're still eating from the pantry and freezer, trying to make space for all that we'll be preserving in the near future. Once you start getting stuff off the shelves and out of the depths of the ice box, you discover that there is plenty to eat.

Here's my Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble:

4 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
Preheat oven to 375°. In a bowl, combine rhubarb, granulated sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and vanilla. Put into a
9" x 13" baking dish and set aside.

To make crumble topping, put remaining 1 cup flour, light brown sugar, and butter, into a large bowl and crumble into a coarse texture using your fingertips or a pastry cutter. Scatter on top of rhubarb filling in baking dish. Bake until rhubarb is very tender and bubbly and crumble topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Good served warm with ice cream.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Just Ducky

We never have overnight guests in our home since we tend to have only two or three functioning rooms, at best, due to construction. One has to be the bathroom, and a place to sleep, and I really like for one to be the kitchen. But we could surely accommodate this duckling for an overnight stay, and so we did.

Here's what happened. I'm driving down an extremely busy highway when I see a mother duck attempting to lead her ducklings out into traffic. This is just not going to happen as a steady barrage of eighteen-wheelers and Philadelphia-bound traffic keeps this road busy every minute of the day. Something makes me pull over to the side of the road, to make sure nothing goes terribly wrong. In the rear view mirror, I watch as the mother duck makes a few attempts out into traffic. What is she doing? Her ducklings stay grouped on the shoulder of the road, waiting for her direction. Finally, the frustrated mama duck takes flight, leaving her fold stranded. No doubt she'll return, but when? Then, one of the ducklings makes a bee line out into the road and is immediately swallowed under one, then two cars. The gusty breeze from a commercial truck blows the hit duckling back to the shoulder of the road. The gaggle of ducklings run over to their wounded one, and after prolonged analysis, declare the duckling dead. The whole time, I sit on the shoulder of the road, still watching. The stranded ducklings continue their journey, as a group, along the shoulder of the road. They leave their dead. But I have to know for sure.

How to reach the duckling without jeopardizing my own safety? I put the car in reverse and pull up next to the wounded duckling. My arm reached out and I scoop it up in the palm of my hand. It's alive, but it could go either way.

By the afternoon, "ducky" has made a marvelous recovery and is quacking and flexing its little winglets as he tries to escape the cushioned mail carton that is his temporary shelter.

I call the Mister. "I have a duck. It's a long story."

At home, my husband stands over the duck like a concerned father. He attempts to warm the duck with a heat lamp so intense that it terrifies me. My husband is afraid the duckling won't make it through the night. The duckling has quieted down, appears sluggish. In the morning, I put it in the warm, fuzzy pocket of my house coat, which it loves. It pees in the pocket. And then ducky comes alive again once more in the mail carton, jumping up and down as it tries to escape. And it keeps it up all the way to the wildlife rehab and refuge center, where I am told that ducky has a fine chance of survival. The rehab center actually has several other ducklings there just ducky's size, and he should blend in fine. I fill out the paperwork, make a donation, get back in the car, and cry. It was the right thing to do, but I miss ducky already. However, it is a duck, and I am not a duck mama. Nor are we set up to raise ducklings.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Lucy's Visit

She was sitting in the hotel lobby on her phone. All tiny-boned and round brown eyes; true Swiss-Amish. Berne settlement, all the way. Very distinct.
Multiple hugs.
"I'm going to show you things you can only see here," I told Lucinda. Then I drove her to Philadelphia. Lots of excited chatter in Germ-ish. We talked about books, and dogs, and people, and how plain people think. We talked about Jesus. A lot. I told her how our dogs are "rescue dogs" and she declared us "BFF"- best friends forever. Then, she expressed a love of seafood and I declared us sisters.

We talked about healing, and education, and what life looks like after you leave a dysfunctional family situation. What life looks like after you take responsibility to end the cycle of abuse in your family, a cycle perpetuated by generations of people who will not discuss nor even acknowledge its existence. We talked about shining a light on abuse so it has no where to hide. We talked a lot about Amish and Mennonite culture and how beautiful the culture is, the culture that hides dark, dark secrets.

I took Lucy to see the Liberty Bell. "Because it's the symbol of freedom and you are now free," I told her. She acknowledged the analogy.

Then we walked to Penn's Landing on the Delaware river, where the founder of Pennsylvania once docked as he began his "holy experiment" to find a settlement for peaceful Christians. It was there we discussed how far our peaceful people have come, and how far we have fallen away from the peace wepurport to practice. And how much hope we have for greater peace between all people.

And we had fun. She declared me the perfect host, but the truth is, she is the perfect guest. So interested in everything, so easily entertained! Small, and mighty, and full of energy. My only goal was to wear her out. She made new friends wherever we went, whereas I stood reserved. Observing.

On the other hand, she says she finds me terribly interesting and full of good stories, which I'm not. It's just that I tell her more than I tell other people because I know she will get it, she will understand. Like how I used to cut school which was boring and go to the library and read about things to quench my insatiable thirst to learn. The very library I work in today. How that curiosity and thirst to learn just never, never goes away. And she so gets that. Or how during college, I cut my hair and wore jeans. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to put my hair up and wear a long skirt not because it wasany one's rule, but because it is authentically, who I am.

Before she left, we bowed our heads in prayer over sushi, us daughters of the Amish. She mentioned a movie deal, and a personal assistant, and television producers.
"You're going to get big, and forget about little people like me. Some day I won't be able to get you on the phone."
"I never forget my friends. And I never forget where I came from."

It sounds like the biggest cliche in the world, to say that. To say that you will never forget where you came from. But so far we have both done such a dismal job of forgetting our roots, that I am prone to believe Lucy when she says she won't forget.
If you'd like to purchase a copy of Lucinda's book A Separate God: Journal of An Amish Girl, I have some copies available for sale at a discount. Just e-mail me at themennobrarian at 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Sunday: Mother's Day Barbecue: Burgers, Shrimp, Grandma's German potato salad, green salad with olives, red peppers, avocado, and Grandma's pound cake with blueberry sauce.

Monday: leftovers

Tuesday: Crock Pot Chili (Similar to my recipe: Makes plenty of leftovers. Freeze some!)

Wednesday: Vegetable soup w/ turkey crescents (turkey crescents are a little messy to make, but tried and true.)

Thursday: Pizza

Friday: Penne ala Norma (Fast and delicious. The Mister likes to add a little hot sauce.)

Saturday: Company's coming. Lets go out!

I'm resting today, exhausted. It was an extremely hectic weekend since on Saturday I planted most of our garden and on Sunday, hosted a barbecue for mother's day. That means everything I normally do on the weekend was multiplied and magnified a hundred times, since I had to intensively clean the house, get ready for guests, and complete a huge gardening project in addition to the hundred other things that usually get done. Yes, every muscle in my body felt it and it would not surprise me if I lost five pounds in sweat alone.

Still, it was worth it. Our mothers had a good time, and my 87-year old grandmother enjoyed sharing her famous potato salad and pound cake. Not to mention, dispensing gardening advice where needed (she could grow an oak tree out of a rock if she had to). Oh, and it was the first time using our new barbecue, which I now feel much more confident about using since we successfully grilled some burgers and shrimp. Much more grilling to come this year.

In the Garden: It's all in: Sweet bi color corn, jalapeno peppers, Serrano peppers, California wonder sweet bells, five kinds of tomatoes, mustard greens, spaghetti squash, gherkin cucumbers, dill and cilantro (the only herbs I direct sow) in addition to our lettuce, high-yield peas, and berries. This year I though for certain that I would not plant nearly as much as last year, but somehow I flunked that test.

There was also an unusual crop found down by the strawberries, which seemed to come out of nowhere...

Look closely, can you see them? Little sticks sticking out of the ground.
Trees! This is what happens when you marry a part-time tree farmer and saw mill guy: He finds a semi-permanent location in your garden and uses it to make starters for his forest.

Now, wouldn't it be nice if it rained right now?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Birds

It's the time of year when the interior of our house is alive with birds. Starlings, to be exact. They nest in the eaves and attic, all ridiculously easy places for birds to get into when you are mid-construction. Once a day, a bird takes a wrong turn and ends up flying through our house. You'll be sitting at the desk or maybe coming out of the shower, when you'll hear a sudden racket, like maybe a shelf has fallen down and hit a window. But you discover that what is actually hitting the window is a large, glossy blackbird. Feathers ruffled, he is flying into the window over and over, stopping only to look at you as if to say "This is somehow all your fault." So you open the back door wide, and then the front. You close off the bedroom door as bird intruders have a way of actually leaving, well, evidence of their visit. But the starling is still trying to fly into a glass window pane, so you grab the broom to help guide and motivate him towards an open door. But before you can even grab the broom, the bird has figured it out and is in flight to freedom. You exhale and hope that you won't have to go through this again for the rest of the day.

Considering how open our house can be, especially during the warmer "peak construction" months, we've been relatively fortunate not to have any intruders of the four-legged variety. It is my husband's mother's fear that we will get up in the middle of the night to greet a raccoon in the hall or come home to a possum in the kitchen. We've seen no sign of coons, have very few squirrels, and are just rather fortunate in this regard. But there have been some close calls. Once last summer I was seated at my desk in the spare room typing away on the computer, when a scratching sound emanated from the wall just inches from my foot. The scratching noise was on the outside of the house, yet there was a sizable hole in the wall (I don't remember why) where I could see the outside. All I could think was "Please don't climb through the hole!" Whatever it was, it didn't. And then there was the time that something kicked up such a ruckus outside one warm evening, it even sounded as if boards and tools on the ground were being moved. We were certain it was a two-legged trespasser, and I laid in bed and prayed while the Mister went to investigate. Thankfully, it was just something noisy, curious, and not at all threatening. So the next time you think that you might want to live a little closer to the natural world, a little closer to nature, think twice. Or buy a net.

In the Kitchen:
There is a marvelous recipe for a rhubarb upside down cake that I discovered here and here. I made the first one and we have been enjoying it very much. One of my own qualms with many rhubarb desserts are that they don't taste sweet enough to me. This one is just right.

In the Garden:
It's been raining non-stop, a soggy wet mess. So many things are ready to go in to the garden and will have to wait. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure the best way to stake the tomatoes this year. Last year we used tomato cages which I did not like at all, and vowed never to use again. They seem irrelevant anyway, since several of the heirloom varieties we're growing this year do better on stakes. When I'm not thinking about tomato cages I'm clipping flowers off of strawberries, which we need to do with our everbearing variety until early July. Then we will have a large, late harvest.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Short Note

Sorry readers, my blog is experiencing a tech issue that is difficult to resolve. I'll be back soon...

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Rhubarb Man

A couple years ago, I saw an unassuming little sign pop up in front of a house. Rhubarb. So one day I pulled in the driveway and knocked on the door and asked about the rhubarb. I could see an enormous patch in their garden. An old man, slightly bent, invited me inside while he went out to cut my order. Inside, his wife and I chatted, and she expressed some trepidation about how much longer he could "keep this up" what with the orders coming in from all the local produce stands, and all the work involved. It turned out, they are the rhubarb growers for most of the local area. What a wonderful blessing to find them. A week later I went back for a larger order, and they gave me their phone number. It sat in my car for a year, until the sign went up this week. Then, I called.

The wife recognized me. "Your the girl who knocked on our door last year!" she smiled. No one has called me a "girl" in a good ten years. "The first cutting is always the best," she said. I told her that I still had a bit canned from last year, and she said that she does as well. I bet!

The smell of the fresh rhubarb stalks in the brown paper bag smelled so good, and even the smell of dandelions and daffodils didn't smell as much like spring as those freshly cut stalks. I'm so glad these nice people were able to put up with growing it for another year. By the time I got home that night, my car smelled delightful and I looked forward to my first canning session (or is that a jam session?) with the cheery optimism that returns to the kitchen each May year after year. Now, ask me about canning something in 5 months or so and my attitude will be waning right along with the harvest. But for now...

In the Garden: A gaping hole where a head of lettuce had been. It looks like something swooped down and carried it off. A vegetarian hawk, maybe?

A Lesson: How Not to Conduct a Business Phone Call

  • Have loud music playing in the background.
  • Don't identify yourself. Instead, ask "How are you today?" to which I will simply reply "fine" because I have no idea who you are.
  • Ask me how to get your books into our library without identifying yourself as a author, distributor or publisher.
  • Demand that we buy the book when I suggest donating a copy.
  • Argue with me when I explain that purchased books must be ordered through our contracted distributor.
  • Continue to argue with me when I explain that state law restricts how we can buy our media.
  • Finally, reveal to me that you are a "publisher" who wants us to order from your "catalog."
  • Never once turn down the music.


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