Wednesday
Aug222018

A Mouse in the House

I long ago came to terms with the fact that I live in the woods, and that means accepting a certain low level of forest animal incursion into my dwelling. I know the builder of this house personally. I know that he didn't deliberately install well-marked forest animal service entrances; these animals have to put forth some effort to get inside. (I would not be surprised, however, to come down here one morning and see a giant toad sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.) 

I am aware that mice occasionally are in my house. We have a network of traps set up in places we know they tend to travel. Every so often I'll hear one go off and the chickens will get a bit of extra protein. I live with it. WHAT I WILL NOT TOLERATE, though, are mice brazenly running across the floor in front of me, or zooming from the bathroom to a spot underneath the washing machine, or—especially not this—mice staring at me with their beady little eyes from behind the edge of the bookcase in my office. 

We have one particularly clever little mouse who has been tearing around the main floor for two days now. I've seen it dash past several traps. This morning, it skidded up to one that we had rigged up on top of the baseboard in my office (one of its favorite highways), sniffed, and then backed up carefully and ran the other direction. I was so torqued at that point that I got into the car, drove 17 miles into town, and spent $38 at the hardware store purchasing every mouse-killing/repellent device (save for poison) that I could get my hands on. I now have two glue traps set up in my office. If it gets past these, I am getting out the .22 and I don't care if I have to repair the drywall. 

Sadly, we all are very allergic to cats, and Rusty hates them with a passion bordering on psychosis or I'd have one just to keep the mice out. Also sadly, black rat snakes are not indigenous to Montana. I'd far rather have a black snake living in the basement than a bunch of mice. The dogs do like to chase mice outside. They will stop at nothing, though, to find them. They have been known to tear down entire lumber piles in search of one. I don't want that kind of destruction in my living room.

We will get this mouse one way or another. 

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I don't find many things that entice me to part with my hard-earned cash (sewing supplies being a notable exception), but I did treat myself to this last week:

It's a Hydro Flask wine tumbler—or as I refer to it, an "adult sippy cup." I got tired of taking my wine outside to drink on the porch and having flying insects drown in it. And as Mallory and Zede of the Sewing Out Loud podcast have noted, it is never a good idea to have an open wine glass in one's sewing area. (Actually, now that I think about it, they may have coined the term "adult sippy cup.") I am liking it a lot, and if you had a mouse in your office, you'd have an adult sippy cup, too. Don't judge, LOL. 

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Thank you, Sara, for the suggestion to make spaghetti squash in the Instant Pot. I think I am a convert. My dinner tonight was some spaghetti squash with pesto (I grated fresh Parmesan on it after I snapped this pic):

Seven minutes in the Instant Pot, a yummy dinner, and I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. It went well with my wine. 

Tuesday
Aug212018

Random Thoughts About Food

I added a book to my canning library last week:

It came highly recommended on the Food in Jars blog. I own all of Marisa McClellan's books; they have some good recipes, but they are devoted mostly to small-batch canning, so I use them when I have small amounts of things. Marisa wrote glowingly about Modern Pressure Canning, and since I don't have a book devoted solely to pressure canning, I decided to spring for this one. 

Eh.

It's okay. I'm going to read it and I am sure I will pick up some tips and techniques, but I was perusing the recipes and thinking to myself "Why bother?" The author put a lot of recipes in here for things that are done more quickly and easily (and just as safely) in a water bath canner, like jams and jellies. The recipe for apple pie filling makes four pint jars. Four pint jars? You need at least one quart jar's worth for a single pie, so why not just can it in quart jars? It's not worth firing up the pressure canner for four pints. I know, not everyone preserves food in the quantities that I do, but still. I may just have to pass this on to someone who doesn't have as much canning experience as I do and go back to my trusty Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is the much-expanded version of the Ball Blue Book and the one I turn to most often. 

I wish I had started keeping a canning journal years ago. I suppose this blog serves that function, in a limited way, but a notebook with recipes and commentary and quantities would be helpful. Some things—like beans—I do often enough that I don't need a refresher, but some things I only do once a year. Maybe I'll start one anyway. Any future grandchildren might get a kick out of reading about what an anachronism their grandmother was. 

I listened to a podcast interview with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms last week. He is my favorite libertarian farmer and he always has lots of good commentary on the state of the food system in this country. The interviewer asked him what challenges small farms were facing now and Joel noted two things. The first is that no one wants to spend time shopping. He said that Amazon, especially, has trained people to expect commodities to be delivered to their doorsteps after a few clicks. Customers are reluctant to come to his farm to buy meat and produce because they "don't want to drive down dirt roads," (insert eye roll here) but even his offer to bring orders to town once a week for pick-up isn't convenient enough for some of them. (Oh, and of course they expect that delivery is going to be free.) The second problem is related to the first, and that is that most people don't cook, don't know how to cook, don't want to spend the time cooking, etc. He said they have a joke on their farm that what people really want is "Polyface Hot Pockets." They want quality, organic meals but they don't want to have to prepare them. Have you ever been to Trader Joe's at 5:30 p.m.? The place is mobbed with people picking up prepared salads and meals. 

We are doing something wrong in this country. More to the point, we're doing a lot of things wrong in this country, but that would take an encyclopedia of blog posts to cover. 

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DD#2 went back to Spokane yesterday so I was able to move my cutting table and assorted supplies back into her room. I'd like to keep moving forward with my embroidery projects, too—I have been picking up small remnants of 100% linen fabric here and there at Jo-Anns, and they need to get cut into 12" squares so I can serge the edges and use them as practice pieces. 

That front that came through Sunday night brought some pretty stiff winds with it. Around 9 a.m. yesterday morning, there was a huge gust followed by a big cracking sound. We lost two trees—both already dead or half-dead, so not a huge loss (free firewood), but they have to be cleaned up. Fortunately, they didn't do any damage. One fell very close to the new garage foundation (!) and the other one managed to land right between a couple of fruit trees in the front yard. We also had rain for about half an hour. I would have been delighted if it had rained all day, but we'll take what we can get. And the best part was that it never got above 50 degrees. I spent the whole day dreaming about fall. Bring it on. 

Monday
Aug202018

The Fair is Not So Fair Anymore

Yesterday was the last day of the Northwest Montana County Fair. I like county fairs. I remember going to the Lorain County Fair when I was growing up and how much fun that was. I haven't been a regular attender at our county fair because a) it happens during the third week of August, when it is typically very hot, dry, dusty, and windy; and b) the husband does not like to go, so unless I find someone to go with, I have to go by myself. I went with Margaret a couple of years ago and that was a lot of fun. 

DD#2 and I found ourselves at the fair yesterday afternoon. It hasn't been quite as hot as it might be otherwise because all the smoke from the wildfires is keeping the temperatures down. We thought it would be fun to have a corn dog and some lemonade and look at the quilts and pet some sheep. 

If ever I needed an indication that things have changed drastically in the 25 years since we moved here, I got it at the fair. It was a big disappointment. We got our corn dogs and wandered over to the home ec building, where there were only about a dozen quilts on display and perhaps 1-2 entries in each home ec category. (I didn't see a single apron.) The 4-H clubs had some very respectable displays, which was gratifying. Our local 4-H club, in particular, had a lot of sewing projects on display. Other than that, though, there wasn't much. I did see a sign on a table for the Alpine Spinners and Weavers Guild, to which I used to belong, but the table was empty.

We then wandered through the commercial building. Once upon a time, I could get a free yardstick from Plum Creek Timber's booth. I have probably half a dozen of them around the house:

Plum Creek was bought out by Weyerhauser, though, and Weyerhauser doesn't give away free yardsticks. They don't even have a booth. The most entertaining thing about the commercial building was the Republican Party booth, where one could get a picture taken with life-size Mike Pence and Donald Trump cutouts. (That has not changed; Flathead County is still very Republican.) 

Pigs usually take up most of the real estate in the animal building, but all of those pens were empty. I guess the organizers didn't want to wait to start cleaning up. All the sheep on display were meat breeds, which makes sense as most of them were 4-H projects. We petted a few of the friendlier ones. I was surprised at how many rabbits had been entered. I suppose they make good pets and 4-H projects. The chickens were fun to look at, and a couple of people had even entered turkeys. 

And that was the end of the fair. It had taken us a bit more than an hour to see everything. I suppose it's possible that there was more there earlier in the week, but I just think fewer and fewer people are entering anything anymore. I have no room to talk—I certainly don't participate, but some of that is because this is one of my busiest times of the year and it's enough to juggle a full-time job with farming without trying to get fair entries ready, too. If it weren't for the 4-H kids, however, I am not sure we would have enough to justify even having a fair. 

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DD#2 heads back to Spokane today. Our air quality is not great, but the air quality in Spokane is well up into the Hazardous range. Fortunately, she has air conditioning in her house and she's still working at Nordstrom, so she doesn't have to be breathing the worst of it. I was a bit concerned about having problems with the smoke after my bout with pneumonia back in February. I can't say that I have noticed much of a difference, though, from any other year when we have had a lot of smoke hanging around. My lungs seem to be functioning normally. 

A front came through last night with a lot of wind. It's still pretty breezy out there. The wind will scour a lot of the smoke out, but it will also increase the fire activity on the existing fires. 

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I think we solved the mystery of the giant pumpkins. Our neighbor, Elysian, had given us some seedlings back in the spring, and one of them was a variety of pumpkin. The husband put the seedlings out in the garden one weekend when I was traveling, and that seedling got planted with the rest of the squash. Obviously that plant is happy out there and producing giant pumpkins. 

DD#2 went with me out to the garden yesterday. We brought back a whole wagonload of produce, including the first watermelon:

I had a conversation with the garter snake, which was hanging out next to that watermelon. DD#2 thought that was very funny. She and the husband were commenting over dinner on my habit of conversing with wildlife. He said that I talk to all the animals around here: snakes, deer, turkeys, birds, squirrels, ground squirrels (I yell at them), chipmunks (I yell at them, too), mice (I yell at them when they are in my house), toads, pigs, chickens—I am that crazy lady wandering around the yard in the red velour bathrobe and muck boots in the morning with my cup of coffee. 

For those of you who come here for the sewing content, I promise I will get back to that soon. This marathon push to get through food preservation season won't last forever. It's got to snow sometime. 

Saturday
Aug182018

Apples and Squash

These are just some of the 25 quarts of apple pie filling that came out of my kitchen today:

Susan actually had two crates of Yellow Transparents and I am glad I only took one! This was a good day's work. The husband will have plenty of apple pies next winter. And if I find myself with more time, I can always get more apples and make more pie filling. It's about time to move on to tomato sauce, though. Ideally, I'd like to be done with canning by the end of September. 

I thought we were done with zucchini, but there were two varieties out there. The majority of the plants were a variety called Black Beauty. They were the ones I used to make the zucchini bread. There were also some Grey, though—the variety I usually plant—and they are just now starting to produce. I am trying to get those picked while they are still small and tender. Ali and her little guy took some of this big ones this morning so they could make some zucchini bread. Truly, I think my idea of having one person in the neighborhood be the designated zucchini farmer makes a lot of sense. Zucchini are not difficult to grow here.

The variety of pumpkins we usually put in is called Cinderella. It's a wonderful pie pumpkin. It's also an heirloom variety and should breed true every year, unlike hybrids. The pumpkins are normally flat, like this:

They turn orange when they are ready. However, I've got a couple (that appear to be on the same vines) that look like this:

At first I wondered if we had accidentally planted some old Hubbard squash seeds but I am pretty sure these are pumpkins. Oh well. DNA is funny like this sometimes. 

The cabbage heads are filling out nicely. 

And I cannot believe the size of these acorn squash. I should have put something down there for scale. Imagine the size of the acorn squash you see at the grocery store and then make them 1-1/2 times bigger:

This variety is called Table King. I got the plants at the nursery after the Great Chipmunk Apocalypse. We usually grow Table Queen, which is similar, but smaller. 

The squash plants were just abuzz with pollinators. It makes me happy to see such a thriving ecosystem. We're swimming in cucumbers, too—I've been passing those out to our neighbors. The grapes still need a few weeks to fill out but the vines are loaded. 

The Spokane Conservation District hosts a Farm & Food Expo every year on the first weekend in November. They open registration in August (but they won't say exactly when in August) so I am obsessively checking the website a couple of times a day. The last few years, by the time I went to register, all the workshops were sold out. I want to make sure we get into at least a couple of them this year. 

I spent most of today in the kitchen, so I already told the husband that I'll be sewing tomorrow. Probably pillowcases or something simple. 

Friday
Aug172018

The Walls Get Poured

Toad update: The husband informed me this morning that when he got home from fire training last night, the toad was sitting on the bridge from the driveway to the porch. The last time the toad was here, I had picked it up and moved it from the porch to the herb garden, which is on the other side of the house. This is one determined toad.

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The husband was busy yesterday—he and the crew poured the walls for our garage and then hurried off to another job after lunch to pour footings again. 

The boom truck with the hose was back again:

It was overcast yesterday, which was unexpected, but that did keep the temperatures down. When it's brutally hot, sometimes the husband will schedule concrete pours at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. That is early for my night-owl husband.  

They'll strip the forms and the foundation will get backfilled. I am not sure what will happen after that or when the husband plans to pour the garage slab, but this in itself is a big step forward. 

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I had a visit yesterday from a young couple that just moved into the neighborhood. They are renting a house down the road and Smokey told them we had eggs for sale, so they stopped in to introduce themselves. (Smokey and I have the same philosophy about community. He keeps me apprised of new developments, so this was not unexpected.) This young mom homeschools their kids. I offered to put her in touch with another young mom I know who also homeschools and has kids about the same age. 

In another couple of weeks, the husband and I will have lived in Montana for 25 years (we moved here in September of 1993). While the only one of us who can claim Montana native status is DD#2, I think we've been here long enough to be considered old-timers. Smokey's son-in-law, who also lives in the neighborhood, told us one time that whenever he meets anyone new to our community, he tells them that they have to get to know the husband and me. There is just something very comforting to me about the web of interconnectedness that holds us all together. One of these days, I would love to host a big neighborhood potluck gathering in the meadow down the road (it belongs to another friend of ours and I am sure he would let us use it for that purpose) so that everyone we know can meet everyone else we know. For a couple of introverts, we have a really wide circle of friends. 

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A few weeks ago, I made beef and broccoli in the Instant Pot and the husband liked it so much that he has been asking me to make it again. We have a very respectable crop of broccoli out in the garden. It's not quite as big as last year's crop, but this is a different variety. Still, I have enough for a couple of meals, so yesterday I went on an archeological dig in one of the freezers, found some beef, and made beef and broccoli in the Instant Pot for him for dinner. 

We are expecting DD#2 home for the weekend. Some of the spaghetti squash are ready to pick and they'll go back to Spokane with her. I've got some rather strange looking pumpkins out there, too. 

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