Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scented Air

There are so many lilac bushes here in southern Ohio that it is difficult to remember that these are by no means a native species. Lilacs first came to America with the colonists by way of England, and to England they came by way of Turkey. We have two very large lilac bushes here adorning either side of the front entry. There is a smaller bush at the back of the house that fights for its survival every year. Our dog Perry seems to admire the scent of lilac blooms that linger in the woody stems as he eats the poor thing every Spring. Sometime last summer I read that a lilac should never be trimmed back in the Fall. I was careful not to cut into what would be this Spring's blooms when I made a little more sunlight available to the ornamental herb garden on the southern side of the house. That bush is so large that it shades a good deal of ground on both the southern and eastern sides. Perhaps a little too quick to pat myself on the back, the promising blooms were hit by a deep freeze a few weeks back. I feared all was lost. Then almost overnight the purple specs burst forth all over the countryside and the lilac's perfume filled the air. I cannot walk out of the house without lingering near the blooms for just a few moments. Nearly every time I come face to face with a bumble bee who was gathering pollen well before I happened along. The flowers are positively alive with the busy humming of bees. I am rather certain that if I kept a few bee frames I would be able to detect lilac in their honey. Now that would be a special scented treat! For some unknown reason, I cannot bring myself to cut the blooms this year and bring them into the house. The picture above is from last year's bloom. Perhaps as the time draws near for the lilac to fade I will take some then, but for right now I love them exactly as they are. It has been a little warm here the last few days and I find myself a bit spiteful with the sun. There is nothing quite like opening a window under a lilac bush and allowing that scent to permeate everything in its wake. Sleeping under the heady scent of lilac is heavenly. Heat or no heat, those windows are going to be open tomorrow. As each day draws to a close I am aware that this gift cannot last forever. Luckily the peonies follow in the bloom cycle to cushion the disappointment. But right now, today, they are here- and they are most wonderful.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

When Bad Goes the Direction of Good

a huge
our old
to pull
us out.
Now that Spring and warmer weather have arrived we have been working on the tractor every weekend. Running around buying various parts, seeking the advice of old tractor expert friends, and hours of blood, sweat, and tears has not yet procured a running Ford old friend. Needless to say, as the grass gets higher and higher, we're getting ancy. Especially after our beautiful hike yesterday which found us pulling ticks from ourselves and children for hours afterward. The baby was spared but nerves were shaken. Tall grass is one thing, ticks are an entirely different beast. With borrowed tractor under foot this morning, my husband could be seen zooming around the farm. The engine cut and a few moments later he came in with a positive glow on his face. "Get your camera," was all he said. I was curious to be certain. The above picture is what he had found. Unbelievable, and he had nearly obliterated it under the blades of the tractor. We had been hunting Morels here at Hawks Run since we bought the place. We had never been met with success. Had we been cutting the grass with our old Ford I am not entirely sure the Morel would have been sighted. You know that old wives tale about mushrooms just going "Pop!" and there they are. Well, it's true. I had been all through the area just yesterday gazing about the conifer grounds looking for saplings. Where said Morel is today, said Morel was not yesterday. I am sure there will be bated breath as we slice this beauty lengthwise and hope for a distinguishing solid stem running the entire length. It sure looks like a true Morel but one never knows until it is sliced open. Now, the ultimate question... just what are we going to make with this little beauty? I cannot wait to dig into the cookbook shelf. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Spring Gift

up the
in the
wagon any
time of year
is wonderful,
but Spring
has a special
way of
bringing all
of your
senses alive.

It is a short half mile walk down our lane out to the main road, and we rarely venture across the road on foot. So it always astounds me how many things there are to observe, collect, and study here on our eleven acres. I think it helps that all of our neighbors have at least ten acres, with one having forty, and another a little over one hundred. We are more wild than most places I would think. It seems like just about anything you place in the ground here grows, and even so called annuals decide that they would rather belong to the perennial family here in the Ohio River Valley. A few days ago we decided to walk up to my Mother in Laws herb garden which is now ablaze in bulbs. We do not yet have blooming tulips here at Hawk's Run but Nanny does and Wren loves their cheerful colors and full blooms. We stopped at our usual haunts along the way looking for our huge snapping turtle in the creek bed that runs between the two lakes. He was no where to be seen. We saw the crayfish mounds but, alas, no crayfish. The lakes always promise good clear views of large fish which the kids like to watch.Canadian geese and our Great Blue Heron are always on hand. When we arrived at the herb garden, the tulips had just fully opened. Daffodils and Hyacinth were a plenty too in bright shades of yellow and purplely pink. Something caught my eye at the corner of the fence rail in a place where one of my favorite plants is always in bloom during summer. I have never known its name. I went over for a closer look because I had never noticed its magnificence in Spring. It had what can only be described as great under structure, just the kind of plant that allows a winter garden to still look amazing in its quiet sleep. Wren's fingers reached out and all of a sudden we heard the most wondrous rattling. Hundreds of seed pods were all going off at once.

Right about this time came along our good friend and most amazing potter who works his own kind of magic at my husband's family business. Always keen to talk gardening and clay, he asked if I knew what we were rattling. My puzzled look gave away my ignorance. He explained that it was False Indigo, and the plant itself could be used to dye wool or cotton. This further peaked my interest. He showed me how how to open the pods and obtain the seeds. Sure enough, a few pods contained enough seeds to grow a pasture of these beautiful wildflowers. He mentioned that it was too bad I didn't have anything to put the seeds in. I immediately procured from my pocket a small cardboard container- after all this is what being a mom is all about right? Be ready for anything!

Like a small bush, False Indigo reaches a diameter of about three to four feet so they need quite a bit of room to grow well. We are trying our hand at growing this wildflower for planting out at the end of Spring. I cannot wait to watch them grow to full height. I may have to wait a few years to see it in bloom but I feel it is well worth the wait. And in the meantime, we can still visit our trusted plant at the herb garden down the lane.

Pictures of Baptisia australis, or False Indigo, flowers and seed pods from Easywildflowers.com. They offer lots of good growing advice and you may also purchase seeds from them directly.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Busy Bees

They are
all out in
full force...
the giant
the smooth
and the nectar
loving wasps.

Flying, zooming, everywhere.
I feel like these tiny flying creatures these days. We have been on the go, just like them. So much is going on everywhere around us that nightfall comes and I feel like I have hardly time to catch my breath...and my to do list gets longer and longer by the day. My knitting remains in the basket, my curtains remain uncut and the sewing machine idle, the mandolin is still atop the quilts. Let's not talk about the real tasks on my list such as laundry and mopping. Outdoors beckons. These days have been utterly amazing in their beauty. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow has been carted back to the compost and burn piles with hardly a glance at the clock. It's difficult to call gardening a task on days like these. It is more like a privilege. Baby ducklings were born at our friends farm last week, preceded by a baby goat a few months before. Their garden is springing anew. It is difficult to just drive by. I cannot. I enjoy their company so much and these added delights make it impossible not to visit. The next farm down the road, again such good friends. Two new lambs in less than twenty four hours. One big and robust- there other so small, and rejected. Hearts go out to this little creature and we do everything we can to coax mama in to being...well, a mama. It is so difficult to watch. You keep telling yourself, this is farming. It is the cycle of life. But it is not, because at the end of the day, your new lamb is in the house and you are bottle feeding it four to six times per day. All these lessons are so good for us. Someday all the lessons learned with our friends will be put to good use in our own barn. Twice now, I have been caught without my camera. I will hopefully make up for this in the next few visits. I also photograph most of my husband's work, some of which can be seen above. This picture is of a bird feeder he hand carved for a collector in Florida. It is perhaps one of my most favorite things he has ever done, even though it is one of the most unadorned and simple. I miss my bird feeders welcoming our feathered friends. When we began having puma sightings, we were told to leave the feeders empty for a while to discourage all wildlife from coming so near the house. The birds are still here in great numbers but it is now more difficult to watch them for lengthy periods of time. We have been "cat less" for a few months now here at the farm, at least as far as we know, so I believe the seed will once again be all right. Just in time, as we have a pine that needs to be removed and we are going to keep the base. Just perfect for a hand carved bird totem. But we all know the saying, "the dentist's kids teeth are falling out." It always seems difficult to find the time to work on projects for ourselves. The bird feeder is behind re framing some windows, replacing roof shingles, and putting new seedlings in the garden. Patience is a virtue, and I guess we have a lot of virtue!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gentle Reminders

it is so
easy to get
off track.

Life is so short. Most people, if they take the time to look inward, have a host of dreams that they would like to accomplish. I am no different in this aspect. For me, learning to knit has been a major accomplishment this year. I have so little time to myself as a mother of two so my moments of learning are short stolen moments while making meals, during nap times, or in the late hours of the night as the rest of the family lay sleeping. This sounds like a lot of time but I also have the task of working from home and trying to get enough sleep to keep myself reasonably sane. Ten minutes here and there has to make do. Each day, these moments are set aside to write, garden, knit, sew, make something special in the kitchen, or read and learn something new about one of these past times. The one thing that has been eluding me, however, is music. I have a wish to learn to play the mandolin and I want to teach Dane this instrument some day. While I knew how to read music as a youngster and play a few pieces on the piano, it is not like riding a bicycle. No matter what anyone says, music has to be practiced or you lose a lot of your learning. Switch from one instrument to another and it is like learning a whole new language. My husbands family hails from the Appalachia's and I have become fascinated with bluegrass and stringed instruments. When we attended a family reunion in West Virginia while I was pregnant with Dane, my daughter Wren danced for hours on a makeshift wood platform stage while relatives she had never met before pounded out tunes like Foggy Mountain and Cripple Creek. We were in a setting about as remote as one can get this side of the Mississippi, complete with hand hewn log cabin and southern cooking at its finest. It was a transforming experience for both Wren and myself. But then the new baby arrives, life resumes its chaotic course, and you find yourself listening to your bluegrass on the CD player instead of from the source of talented relatives. By the time of the reunion, I had already had this dream, so a mandolin was waiting patiently in a closet at home. It had been there a few years actually, picked up now and then, but never in earnest. With learning to knit, as it has been proven by science, something has expanded in my brain, and I am picking things up quicker than usual. Thoughts of the mandolin were circulating again. And then the flu hit our household this week and I lost two entire nights worth of sleep. By the third night I couldn't sleep so I watched a movie to try and clear my head. Hah! I chose Copying Beethoven. I was transported into this beautiful but so complicated world of a Master and the ins and outs of public adoration and humiliation. There were words in this movie that struck straight to my heart. Beethoven says at one point:

"The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man's soul. Music is the language of God. We musicians are as close to God as man can be. We hear his voice, we read his lips, we give birth to the children of God, who sing his praise. That's what musicians are. "

For me these words help define a feeling that there were no words to explain. It is the reason I can find myself crying during an opera, transported to the past by a familiar tune, or halted in my tracks by a melody I have never heard before. And then there was this:

"And then, a voice, a single frail voice emerges, soaring above the sound. The striving continues, moving below the surface. Crescendo. First violin longing, pleading to God. And then, God answers. The clouds open. Loving hands reach down. We're raised up into heaven. Cello remains earthbound, but the other voices soar suspended, for an instant in which you can live forever. Earth does not exist. Time is timeless. And the hands that lifted you caress your face, mold them to the face of God. And you are at one. You are at peace. You're finally free. "

Beethoven's explanation of his last work is riveting. It begs one to understand how music is created, to somehow do more than just listen and be moved. I am half way through learning Cripple Creek and the mandolin is permanently out of its case and resting safely atop quilts in an armoire where I can reach for it here and there throughout the day. Music is transforming. I always knew that. But now I am truly finding out just how transforming it can be by using more than just my hearing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


can be
so much
joy in the
tasks we

When I had my shop in Florida, it had the very convenient feature of being located right next store to a Starbucks coffee shop. While I am not a great fan of their coffee beans, I loved their special mochas- especially the pumpkin flavored one served up from about October through the end of January. I think it is fair to say that I had a Starbucks habit. It wasn't unusual for me to sip one in the morning while opening up the shop, and then be sipping a second one sometime after five pm. This was perhaps a time in my life when I had more money than brains. The daily cost of this little habit would now make me queasy in the stomach. It's not that I still don't enjoy a mocha now and then. I'll stop by our local coffee brew house every week or so, but I pay with change in the coin slot in the car. It runs under my finance radar this way and I enjoy the treat without guilt! But honestly, I have far more enjoyed making coffee at home these past few years. You know a great coffee connoisseur when you meet one. I make all of my coffee drinks in a French press. Electric coffee makers just do not taste the same. Bleary eyed from yet another night's interrupted sleep, I'll fill the tea kettle and get it boiling while I clear away any remaining kitchen mess from the previous night. I cannot function in a messy kitchen- not even to make coffee. By the time the whistle blows the French press has been loaded with a double scoop of freshly ground beans and the boiling water rushes in to release that wonderful espresso aroma. It has to sit for about four minutes, and during this time I am usually finishing up making the children's breakfast.

I have to giggle every time I see the eight cups capacity mark on the press. I usually can polish off the entire carafe by early afternoon, and it is more like two full bodied cups than eight! Thank goodness I drink decaffeinated coffee. My coffee of choice has always been my old favorite Illy in its shiny aluminum can, but I am no coffee snob. I love all sorts, even some of the most inexpensive brands. It goes without saying that I am one of those rare people who drink coffee because of its taste, not because of its kick. After the beans four minute boil bath, I take my coffee in a stoneware mug. Always. It just doesn't taste the same in china or glass. My grandmother drank her coffee with milk and so do I. I place about four tablespoons in a small plastic tightly lidded container and shake it to a froth for about sixty seconds. Unbelievably, this works as well as the expensive machines that do the frothing for you. I think the trick is two percent organic milk. Lastly, a sprinkle of sugared cinnamon goes on top. It all sounds rather time consuming but in reality it takes only a few minutes. I am always finishing up other things so I can have a few rare uninterrupted minutes to savor this delight while the children are busy with their breakfast. Mornings just wouldn't be the same without this ritual of coffee brewing. The sight of oily beans and the sound of their grinding. The steam rising from the teapot and the aroma as the hot water hits the coffee grinds. The beautiful froth of milk spattered with sweet sugar and cinnamon. It's a wonderful way to greet the day.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Easter Colors

I know
Easter is
thought of
with pastel
colors of
pale blues,
and light

But I have come to think of Easter as the time of the whites of the flowering ornamental pear trees and the deep purples of tiny violets growing beneath the evergreens. The two always make their first appearance side by side here at the farm. We have had a few windy days this week, and one of them sent the white petals of the pears fluttering all over the property in such a dense manner one would have sworn it was a snow shower. So many petals now cover the grass that it is a wonder that any are left on the trees themselves.

Wren and I went for a walk under the evergreens today and picked the small stems of violets. We carried about forty indoors, washed them well, and they are drying next to the kitchen sink. Later in the day, we will beat an egg white, paint the petals with the frothy egg, and dip them into fine sugar. Weeks from now they will be taken out of a jar and placed a top cupcakes. Candied violets are such a beautiful thing to decorate cakes with and so difficult to find for sale. I never realized they were so easy to make until we tried it ourselves.

My husband had to run to the market and asked if we needed anything here at the house. Poor man, I asked him to take a pocket knife and cut me six boughs from a Forsythia tree growing down the road and bring them home. Not exactly the response he was looking for. They look so amazing here in Ohio in early April. Their sunny yellow flowers are blindingly bright but look so pretty against the backdrop of weathered grey barns that grace every pasture here in the River Valley.

As with most things, I keep meaning to cut them myself and just have not had a moment to get it done. While picking the violets today, their cheery yellow insides once again reminded me of the Forsythia blooms. I'll keep these cutting indoors on the dining room table until they shoot forth new roots. Then we'll place them into some good soil and give them a chance to take a firm hold. Hopefully some day as we pull into our drive, the bright yellows of their blooms will greet us along with the snowy whites of the pears. We'll then have another bright color to identify with Easter time.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Little Miracles

is one
of my
times of
the year.

Nasturtium Day and Night above
Ideal Market Bean below

Like most gardeners, wintertime finds me curled up in wee hours pouring over seed catalogs and collected volumes on gardening- which in both cases seems like I can never have too many. March comes around and I can hardly wait to get my hands into the soil, even if the soil is organic compost from a bag and the ground is my little peat pots for starting seeds. I make the bargain with Mother Nature to allow freezes in the next six weeks but to be nurturing to tiny plants after that time with no more temperatures below 32 degrees. Sometimes She keeps her bargain, sometimes not. I am starting most of my plants under cover this year indoors.

The miracle of dropping a tiny seed into a pot, covering it with rich soil, and watering daily never fails to amaze me when something actually happens and a seedling springs forth. I love those first few days when the plant asserts itself into a recognizable form. Some plants seem to grow before your very eyes like the plants of the peas and beans family.

Lumina top

Amish Snap Pea right

Others seem to put forth so much effort into large first leaves that they grow more slowly, but you wonder at just how so much raw material for growth can fit into such a small space like a pumpkin seed. I am growing Luminas for the first time this year and am looking forward to seeing their white brightness glowing in the moonlight.

Many of our seedlings this year came from organic and heirloom stock. I love being able to venture out the back door into the garden with a basket and plan the days meals depending upon what presents itself as we walk the rows.

The Ideal Market Bean burst out of the soil yesterday morning, and I think it may be the most beautiful seedling I have ever seen. The leaves are exquisitely delicate and there is a slight purplish hue about them that seems to foresee the purple flowers this plant will soon put forth.
There is just so much to see and learn when you grow your own food. Planting seeds indoors at this time of year when we are trapped between beautiful sunny afternoons and hauntingly cold and windy days in between seem to give assurance that the warm days of summer surely cannot be too far off in the distance. I have been making a fresh cucumber radish salad spiced with red peppers and vinaigrette. As good as this salad is right now, I know when the ingredients come from the garden here at the farm, it will be just that much better. Some of our friends will be enjoying the harvest as well. As I have been thinning out our seedlings, I have been placing the little rooted plants in containers for visiting friends to take back to their gardens. It is amazing what such a simple gesture can do to brighten some one's day.

Longfellow Cucumber on right

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Colonel Bunn

Oh my,
Hawk's Run
has been
a beehive
as of
I belong to a dear group of women who have one thing great in common, and many many other wonderful things in common. The one great thing is our love and admiration for the late Tasha Tudor. The other many wonderful things are a love of nature, gardening, arts, homesteading, and of course, motherhood. Our group is called Take Peace and we range from the West coast of America, to my little Ohio River Valley, all the way to Tanzania. These women, and also a few men I might add, have become such dear friends. I would have never thought it possible to learn so much about so many through a group that very rarely has a chance to meet face to face. We have exchanges through out the year, and especially at Holiday times, and this Easter is no exception. The exchange is called the Colonel Bunn exchange, named after Tasha's dear rabbit character that she drew in honor of a real visitor from her childhood. I have an ongoing love of band boxes and decided this would be my medium. The problem was that I do not paint. Not that I have never wanted to, I just have never had any instruction. I am somewhat talented when it comes to refinishing furniture but this little painting of a rabbit is a whole other card indeed. I began with a brown base coat on everything. Since these were to house tea in the recipient's tea room, I left the insides with just this first non toxic base coat. Next went on a layer of colored non toxic paint, in shades of pink, lilac, and fawn brown. I stared at Colonel Bunn for a few days noting just how many colors Tasha had worked into this little furry friend. There were so many I didn't know where to begin. So I finger painted his outline in shades of brown. I didn't trust myself with a brush. Layers after layers went on until I could deny no longer that it was time to add detail. The detail went on in the form of an antique calligraphy pen. I literally applied and scratched my way through Colonel Bunn. A thin clear coat was applied to all outside surfaces. Then I took a very fine sandpaper and aged everything. A light coat of non toxic stain went on after the sanding. It was all finished off with a coat of Murphy's pot wax, a most heavenly smell if there ever was one. The boxes are lined in hemp and ready to be sent out today. On the inside cover of the smallest box is a secret message that says Colonel Bunn has come to tea 2009. I hope Linda enjoys them as much as I enjoyed making them. And Linda, I really hope you do not read my blog! If you do, please accept my apologies for showing you your gift too early! It's a week more or less until Easter and we will be busy coloring eggs, putting together Easter baskets, and enjoying this beautiful weather in the gardens.