Autumn Days

In spite of that subject line, I probably don’t have any decent images of leaves changing. I need to go for a couple of drives this week. We’re almost at peak here in the WNC, and the temperatures are heavenly. Should be smelling wood smoke in the air any day now.

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It’s been far too long since my last post, and no help for it. I’ve been letting life live me, working in front of the tube and then wondering why it takes twice as long to get anything done. A new contract was presented to me, and that nonsense may be finally nipped in the bud, because my favorite sites are no longer worth my time until the bulk of my work for the day is completed now. So I’m back at a desk and hopefully getting my proverbial excrement together.

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Early autumn was a time of food processing. The pressure cooker and water bath canner both saw some action. There’s just not enough money or space yet to do the putting up that I want to do, but I’m making do where it counts. The kitchen always becomes a learning experience in some way. I have a bad habit of creating soups that turn into stews because of the lack of broth, and I look forward to working on that. My last batch of chicken and wild rice was delicious, but I froze the leftovers because there plain wasn’t enough broth to can them and I wasn’t going to put forth the effort only to have the seals not take. Darn freezer’s full to bursting though…that deep freeze idea is looking better and better….

We hit Sky Top Orchard about an hour south of us to stock up on apples and cider doughnuts. Need to hit them in September next year…it was a serious walk to the back of the orchard for the good stuff. Came home with at least 2 bushels of Granny Smiths, Pink Ladies, and Romes. I got an apple peeler/corer a couple of Christmases ago, thank the gods, and now, a week and a half later, there’s several bags of apples in the freezer for pies, half a dozen jars of apple butter, 12½ pints of applesauce, a large pie, and a leftover bag of Romes for snacking.

That new contract also meant investing in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, so I’m hoping to get better at image presentation in future posts, just as soon as I can dig into the tutorials.

Autumnal Equinox!

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Gratuitous kitten shot

Where does the time go? I’ve been neglecting the blogs and no excuse, just the random busyness of life.

September is my birthday month. A pinch of hedonism followed by a slathering of responsibility. The state got proactive about my past due taxes and started garnishing, and that was the kick in the ass I needed to contact the IRS and get myself on a payment plan for the federal past dues. It’s a relief to be out of collections, per se, but it means some serious budgeting on the horizon. We’re talking about ditching cable finally, and I’m shopping for cheaper insurance for myself once the open enrollment hits in November. I throw some resumes into the ether every couple of weeks and by and large, I’m ignored; so if I can keep us afloat through the holidays, the next step after the first of the year will probably be some temp work through an agency. We’re encouraging family members to come to us for the holidays, because we can’t afford to travel this year.

I’m so happy to have been canning more this year! Put up more tomatoes last week and I’m hoping for at least two more big batches, if I can find the money for them, because I have my eye on recipes for tomato paste and pizza sauce (and the pizza sauce jones is totally thanks to Jenna, the evil temptress…winkwink). Did an inventory of our pantry this past weekend, and enjoyed the assessment…lotta jars in there, dry goods, preserves, etc. I’m partial to strawberry jelly so I’m making a mental note to make more next year, because I can already tell it won’t last the winter.

I’m also looking ahead to winter from a preparation viewpoint. We took the car in to get an alignment and discovered what it really needed was 2 new tires, so that expenditure was taken care of this month. It’s a relief to have that done, and we got all-weather tires, but I still want to be uber-prepared this year, so that if we don’t want to hit the roads (when it’s snowy or icey), we won’t have to. That means preparing foods on the weekends for the week ahead, having a well-stocked larder/freezer, and stocking up on stuff like candles, water, etc. for just in case. Trolling the web for cookie recipes, soup and stew ideas, and dreaming of a larger freezer someday…and LOVING the pressure canner for taking up the slack that our freezer can’t handle.

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I’m in an amazing mood today! First day of fall and the weather’s reflecting it here in the WNC, with clear skies, temps just around 70, and the leaf colors starting to turn. We’ve been opening the windows at night finally, and I look forward to the electric bill decreasing a pinch.

I spent yesterday in food prep mode: bread, bread crumbs, granola, and energy bars. The bread crumbs were to kill a loaf of whole wheat that I knew wouldn’t get eaten and was taking up space in the freezer; Les and I are both suckers for white bread (and still in love with this recipe). As I did not trust myself to dry them out completely on first run, I left the food processor til the end. But I was low on Ziploc bags too, so crushing them with a rolling pin was out; hence the pic of the wooden mallet. It worked fine. Took a lot longer than I thought it would (I’ll make the pieces smaller next time), but I just kept rotating trays in the oven while doing other stuff.

Tried the granola recipe from From Scratch magazine. It didn’t clump as well as I would’ve liked, so I may try another recipe next time; though I admit it could also be because I added coconut flakes and didn’t add more moist-something to compensate. Hindsight. Sorry no energy bar recipe link…it’s from Terry Walters.

We’re almost out of cash til Thursday, but jack o’ lantern pumpkins are 3 for $12 at Ingles….I see some financial shuffling occuring…..

Merry Mabon, y’all!

Harvest Time

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“A garden is never so good as it will be next year”

- Thomas Cooper

With thanks to Chiot’s Run, from where I snitched the quote.

I’m dragging my feet on digging the potatoes. The reasoning is twofold: I needed a weekend of doing very little, and that was accomplished. And I think I’m putting it off because then I’ll know it’s time to really rearrange things out there for fall. But I’m also worried they’ve been in the ground (so to speak) too long, so it will get done this weekend.

I have my eye on a 4 foot mini greenhouse for the winter out there. Unfortunately, it’s close to $100 at Lowe’s, and that kind of money always goes toward something else here. I still have a large amount of plastic sheeting, so there’s a chance I could jerry-rig something with PVC pipe, but that’s one of those projects where you’d almost rather shell out the dough for the nice mini greenhouse instead. Especially when the landlord gives a crap about outside aesthetics.

Labor Day. Can’t believe it’s almost September. 

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Yes, that middle shot is Ansel sitting up like a human, feet out in front of him, so he can bathe the privates. Why do you ask?

Discovering Food

Yea, can’t shut me up. This post probably belongs in my cache of essays for the book I’m laying out, but I’m itching to talk today…

One of the downsides to binge-watching TV (I’m unable to ignore it when Science Channel decides to throw a Firefly marathon…Browncoats unite!) via plain old cable is being stuck with the same types of commercials for hours on end. McDonald’s latest campaign to drag office drones thru their drive-thru before work involves extreme close-up shots of the ingredients behind an Egg McMuffin and coffee…the egg being fried, the Canadian bacon sizzling on the grill, the English muffin being brushed with butter, the coffee being poured. I’m not a Canadian bacon fan, but even if I was, all I could think while watching it was how the “butter” being brushed on the muffin was likely three types of oil with butter flavoring (like the stuff you pour over your movie popcorn), GMO’d to the hilt, the eggs from battery cage hens tortured throughout their short lives, the bacon created from pigs that were never able to turn around in their cement floor and metal cage pens…..

I don’t lament the abuse I performed on my body during the dotcom years, hitting the revolving door of their drive-thru at lunchtime because it was the closest crap near work. It’s in the past. But I’ve never been so happy that my food habits have changed. The Hubs made brunch yesterday, fried egg sandwiches with bacon on top. Both the eggs and the bacon come from a farm in Fairview, a half hour from here, where the pigs and chickens are pasture-raised. The bread is homemade, this recipe with organic flour from the local co-op, which means even the flour may be local, since the co-op is working harder to stock Carolina Ground lately. It was a scrumptious, sigh-inducing meal that I reflected on often as I burned through Firefly episodes. I may still overeat and not treat my body right, but where we live and the decisions I make now…so much healthier!

I was reminded of this as I read Ben’s post today. Even when you don’t create the food yourself, it’s entirely possible to take pride in the food choices you make. I’m incredibly lucky to live where I do, and it’s thanks to where I live that I’m able to make the choices I do. I’ve noticed Jacksonville (FL) has been trying harder to pull in outlying farmers and set up smaller farmer’s markets since we left. But the pull to grab crap when crap is so convenient is a very difficult struggle. My sister encounters it daily, living in Charlotte. 

So this is mainly a gratitude post, because ever since I did my homework, I haven’t been able to darken the doorstep of a single drive-thru (and while we live in BFE, there are a wealth of choices within a short driving distance), and that. is. so. liberating! 

Wild Geese

With thanks to Kris Carr, for putting it on her FB. I needed this today and will reread it several times to get through this Monday. Canada geese especially, have a special place in my heart. I got to know them well as they flew over our field on Above All in Connecticut. They carry the spirit of my dad, from the flock that visited the cemetery when we took him home.

Wild Geese
You do not need to be good.
You do not need to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver

Differences & Work Avoidance

Mid-August in WNC. I step outside to work for a bit, because it’s warm out and I’m getting tired of the artificial environment of air-conditioning. Enjoying some of the warmth of summer, some of the only real warmth we’ve gotten this year. It’s been dang mild up around these parts. And as it is, it’s climbing to mid-80s, and I’m sitting in the shade in yoga pants and barely sweating. I have no business complaining. Though I complain more about the AC than about the outside heat. I’m ready for that sucker to be OFF. One more month. We could be kicking it off in the evenings already, if we weren’t so dang lazy and acclimated to sleeping in cold…

The local oracles think the leaf color won’t be as bright due to the frequent rains we had this summer. Last year felt dull too, so I’m hoping this won’t be the case. One of the black walnuts out front is starting to drop leaves already and turn…the low leaves are going yellow while the higher ones are turning red. It’s pretty and gets my juices flowing. I’m an autumn lover.

There was a guy weedwacking across the creek, clearing overgrowth with a practiced hand. It felt like a juxtaposition from the landscapers in Florida, many of whom speak Spanglish and don’t care about the environment (yea, OK, I’m stereotyping). Down there, it’s about fertilizers, pesticides, cutting back, whatever it takes to create pristine nature around business districts amidst a tropical environment that encourages all levels of growth. Unfortunately there’s quite a bit of that around here too…I was quite disappointed recently to discover that the reason the berry yield was so low out back this year was because the landscapers spray that whole area to prevent parasitic growth. God, I can’t wait to have my own land…

My dad took pride in his landscape, and I used to be reminded of that pride every time I’d hear a Florida landscaper grind an edger around a sidewalk, oblivious to how they were dulling the blades. Around here, the landscaping is done with more of a discerning eye though. It’s about the health of the trees and shrubs, rather than focused on the appearances. And given that NC’s nickname oughta be “Land of the Kudzu”, I see their point. Definitely like this attitude better.

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The garden’s winding down. I’ve yet to record my mistakes, but they’re evident more and more as I look at what’s growing and what’s dying. I need to get out here this weekend and cull. I have 7 tomatoes (fruit, not plants) growing and some random peppers; the basil can stand another harvest; and I’ll probably dig potatoes in another week or three. The rest is such a hodgepodge.

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The IRS continues to threaten. I applied today for several spots within the local school system, everything from lunch lady to paper pusher to TA. I pray for a nibble, something that will put a pinch more dough in our pockets while simultaneously allowing me to work with kids. They’re so much more tolerant of crazy than adults.

 

Midlife Renewal

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More introspection than farm stuff this post…feel free to skip it if that’s not your speed.

I’ve been enjoying a bit of a midlife crisis lately. I turn 45 next month. I come from decent genes, so I could definitely make it to 90, though I’m probably shortening my life with every day I allow bad food to dictate how large my ass gets. And we won’t even explore the tangent that we’re likely not going to have children…that’s a crusher. Point is, I feel TIME pressing down on me hard, and combined with my rather terrifying fear of death, I’ve been struggling a bit with how to deal with it.

I’m an Oprah fan, and a Kris Carr fan, so when I saw that Kris Carr’s Soul Food eps from Super Soul Sunday were being replayed this past weekend, I tuned in while I relaxed. Sunday was a true relax day…I sat on my ever-present arse and played Mah Jong for a good portion of the day. Wasn’t quite feeling sorry for myself, but definitely not 100% up. So I listened to Kris’s words, and Mark Nepo’s talks with Oprah, and let stuff sink in a little. The undercurrent of the talks was the big C…Mark Nepo has fought it twice, and Kris lives with it, a stage IV chronic type that, thank the gods, is under control. But she’ll probably never be “in remission”, and living with that blows my mind more than the fact that the cancer could significantly shorten her life.

Lots of little gems in those talks, but one particular thing Kris said stuck a chord, and it’s funny, because it could be taken as a stepping-off thought or a really depressing one: “Life is a terminal condition.” Yea, yea, that feels so Hallmark, like that saying about don’t take life too seriously because you’re not going to make it out alive. We’re all going to die. It may happen in a random car crash, the big C, or when we’re 100, but regardless, it’s going to happen someday. So the vital thing to take from that is how incredibly important it is to live the life you want, to its fullest. 

Since I tend to live in the future, you’d think that would only exacerbate my condition. But instead, it’s forcing me to look at the present, because improving my present is how I’m going to gain the future I want. Whether it’s chipping away at our debt, eating healthy, losing weight, getting stronger, all these things and more are going to contribute to our someday farm. 

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My soul food sits on my lap as I type this. He bathed a bit on my right leg, then switched to the left where he’s dozing. He’s definitely half tabby, half callie…as he’s growing, his stripes grow more confused and he’s got this coffee-ice-cream light brown coming out around his face. He sleeps like a teenager on a phone, and I have to shift him frequently so he won’t fall off my dang leg. He’s such a kitten, not even 4 months yet…he’s adorable one minute and jumping on his big sister the next. But it’s mostly in play, and Fig gets pissed, but we haven’t seen bloodshed with them, which is a relief. Hubs and I are still covered in Band-Aids, but we’re disciplining him and he’ll get the message eventually.

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I have minimizing on my mind lately. I look forward to giving more love to animals, but we wouldn’t last a day with a dog in this apartment as it stands. We need more bookcases, less books. The 2nd bedroom turns into a catch-all when we don’t have room for something, so I’m starting there, tearing into it. There’s already a box of books ready for the local used bookstores, and I hope to hit it more this weekend.

7 tomatoes and 1 pepper on deck…c’mon August!