Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Life Lesson #2,764

No matter how enticing it may be, do not, I repeat DO NOT, put a basket full of chard in the washing machine.

Yeah, like many life lessons I learned this one the hard way. Before you say, "Well, DUH...", hear me out. I have many, many times in the past put my greens through the washer: spinach, collards, etc. It is a fantastically easy way to wash and spin dry lots of greens at once. I have never, however, tried this with chard until this morning. The leaves are much stiffer than other types of greens, and the stems are much more substantial.

I ended up with a washer full of tiny bits of leaves and chard stems. It took me half an hour to clean all the bits out of the crevices of my washer. Now I have to wash everything again, and see if there is anything to salvage besides the stems.

I guess stems are better than nothing, right?

Monday, August 29, 2011


This weekend, we were able (at long last) to watch a monarch butterfly come out of its chrysalis. First the sea green chrysalis became transparent, and then all of a sudden, it burst open and the little guy s-l-o-w-l-y crawled out. The first picture was taken just a few seconds after he got all the way out, and the last about 2 hours after his emergence.

As promised, here is a pic of one of JP's projects. He installed this solar powered lamp post near the turn in our driveway between my parents house and ours. The auger broke again, while trying to dig a hole to pour concrete for the base...too rocky in that area! I couldn't help but do some more dry stacking of stones around the base.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It's All Greek to Me!

We have developed a liking for Greek yogurt up here on the hill in recent months. It is thick, creamy and just a bit tangy...delicious! Just a couple of months ago, our favorite magazine, Cook's Illustrated, featured an article rating Greek yogurts. That is when we discovered that the big difference is that Greek yogurt is strained to remove more whey than typical yogurt, which is what gives it the super creamy consistency. This also gives it almost twice the protein content of regular yogurt.

Now, our local grocery store carries Greek yogurt, but at $6.00 a quart, it gets a bit pricey to feed our yogurt habit. JP decided to take matters into his own hands and started making his own Greek style yogurt!

He makes it with whole milk, so 1 gallon (costing just under $4.00) will make 2 quarts of luscious, thick yogurt. He begins by heating the milk to 180 degrees, then cooling it to 120 degrees and stirring in a couple of tablespoons of starter (old yogurt). Then he incubates it in a cooler with a heating pad set on medium for 6-10 hours, usually overnight. Finally he strains it through an old, white T-shirt for a couple of hours to the desired consistency. Easy Peasy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Outing of the Week 10 - Idlewild

We did our annual trek to Idlewild today, as did plenty of other people...although it was not too terribly crowded. Can this really be the 6th summer we've gone?

JP has a vertigo thing for the past several years. He ends up doing a lot of people watching, while I try to figure out how to get an odd number of people on rides...it means that sometimes I end up going twice, because BOTH girls want to ride with ME. (I should feel special for that, right???) JP says he was astounded by the number of obese people he saw...he thought they numbered well over 50%!

Even though we only stay for about 4 or 5 hours, we get to go on lots of rides. The girls always want to walk through their favorite Storybook Forest first. Tonight, J told me "I had SUCH a fun day today!" L said that EVERY ride was her favorite.

On the way home, we passed a produce stand selling peaches. Although Mom and I have already canned a bushel of peaches, I bought another 2 bushels.

After dinner this evening, the girls, JP and I sat and watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe while snapping 3 gallons of beans from the garden. I canned another 7 pints of Dilly Beans tonight, but have another huge bowl of beans to deal with.

Guess what I'm doing tomorrow?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Adults Only Outing

JP and I managed to slip away SANS CHILDREN (thanks Mom & Dad) to the city yesterday for a wee bit of R&R to celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Last night we enjoyed a delicious meal at a fancy restaurant (no kiddie menu at this place!), and a leisurely stroll around the city. We could almost see the Pirates play, and could enjoy the fireworks for each home run from our Hotel window.

This morning we ate fresh bagels with a schmear of cream cheese outside near the dinos.

This afternoon, we returned home and got to work. The asparagus is finally planted! This was a back-breaking job. First JP put several scoops of topsoil at the bottom of the garden since the garden soil is so rocky and hard. Then I had to work the soil, getting the roots and rocks out of it, and smooth it into a mound about 50 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 12 inches high. The next step was digging a trench 18 inches deep, 10 inches wide, and 50 feet long. After that, we put manure and peat in the trench, and used the mini rototiller to work it in to the top soil. I piled this up into a mound at the bottom of the trench, over which we draped 25 asparagus crowns. Finally, I shovelled all the soil back into the trench to cover them up, and tacked black plastic over everything (with space for the asparagus to come up) to keep the weeds from going crazy. Whew! I hope they all come up!

JP is working on a couple of projects as well...I will post pictures when he is done.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Outing of the Week 9 - Mingo Creek

This week was one long, daily outing for Miss J, who attended Wilderness Survival Camp at Mingo with one of her friends. L and I got to do a lot of driving back and forth to take them and bring them home each day, but we also went to Krispy Kreme one day, and to the playground another day, and played games together at home.

J and the other Wilderness Survivalists did many activities this week, such as: built a hut out of debris, took a hike to learn about tracking animals by prints and scat, started a fire with flint and steel, collected water from the trees with a bag, made a compass, and learned some nifty knots. She also came home filthy, tired, hungry and happy every day.

Mingo is one of our very favorite nearby State Parks. It is lovely and cool there by the creek. There are several very nice play areas, and miles and miles of hiking trails. We go there once a month during the school year for Home School Outdoor Classroom: an hour of science class outdoors, always fun.

Today we are preparing for the arrival of JP's sister and family for the weekend, and next week is our family vacation week. Fun, fun, fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Creepy Crawlies

We have a bumper crop of caterpillars this summer. We have found lots of monarch caterpillars on the local milkweed besides our 2 black swallowtails. Both of the swallowtails are now in chrysalis. Interestingly, the second caterpillar chose to change on a stick, and that chrysalis is brown.

A couple of the caterpillars we found were teeny-weeny. They are quickly making up for lost time...chomping down the milkweed, and getting fat.

This one is getting ready to change into the chrysalis.

This is what he will look like soon. The monarch chrysalises are so beautiful, with their touch of gold.

In the meantime, the queen apparently kicked most of the workers out of the hive for several days last week while it was very hot. The Bee Man told us that they do that to cool off the hive.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Putting the "Wild" in Wildlife

The girls and I found a black swallowtail caterpillar on our dill on Tuesday, and another one on the parsley. We did a bit of research on these little herb lovers, and decided to try to watch their metamorphosis.

This morning we discovered one of the caterpillars up at the top of the butterfly habitat, hunched up and not as vibrantly green as previously. We were afraid he was dying! By this afternoon, we found that he had simply formed a chrysalis.

According to our research, he should emerge in 2-3 weeks. This link has a very interesting slide show of the entire metamorphosis.

The kitties have been playing with their food lately...traumatizing small rodents, then leaving them under the veranda with the rodent form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This morning, Kali discovered Ernie tormenting a chipmunk. This afternoon, she found it under the veranda, doing deep breathing exercises, and chased it out. L reached out to grab and save it before I could stop her. The bugger immediately latched onto her little finger and wouldn't let go for several seconds.

Luckily my research shows that rodents rarely carry rabies, and since it was captured by our immunized cats, we shouldn't have to worry about that. The bite did break the skin, however, and it is very near her finger joint, so she will be starting on antibiotics tonight to ward off infection.

There is never, I repeat NEVER a dull moment up here on the ridge!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


During the summer of 1989, I went with a group of college students under the mantle of YWAM (Youth With A Mission) to Manilla, in the Philippines. There were 3 other students from my college along on the trip, one of whom I had been dating for the past year and a half. The trip was an amazing experience for me, having never been in a third world country before. There was a lot to process emotionally when I returned, and I spent many evenings with JP (also on the trip) talking things over.

JP was a great friend, pretty cute, and an all around good guy. I tried (unsuccessfully) to set him up with several of my friends. I was dating the guy I thought I'd marry at the time, after all! A few months later, when that relationship was over, JP and I continued to spend time together. I was devastated when he told me that he had taken a job in West Virginia and would be leaving in a few days.

We wrote each other regularly. About half way through my summer vacation, I realized that what I was feeling for him was more than just a buddy-buddy relationship. He came to my home in Pennsylvania to visit for a couple of days, and that sealed the deal: we were dating!

This was a long distance relationship...not always easy. JP came back to our college town most weekends during my senior year to visit, and I went out to his little trailer in WV a couple of times. In October 1990, he asked me to marry him, and of course I agreed. We were married 10 months later, in August.

This morning, 20 years later, I woke up to find 20 red roses on the counter for me. He has not changed from being that considerate, gentle man that I first fell in love with so many years ago. (He surprised me with 21 roses for my 21st birthday a few months after were engaged.)

So, here's to the next 20, Sweetie. Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Outing of the Week 8 - The County Fair

The girls and I headed back down the hill (my third time today) this evening to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the local County Fair. We usually go for one evening every summer, but this evening was less hot and humid than most...hooray!

We bought greasy food on a stick and ice cream. We wandered through the barns, admiring the sheep and goats. We happened upon a cow getting a hair cut, and were able to pet some of the bunnies. We marvelled at the surprising number of outfits consisting of Daisy Duke shorts and cowboy boots. We stopped by the petting zoo before heading over to the rides, and were surprised to see this little guy...not exactly indigenous to PA!

After riding a mini roller coaster, the Ferris wheel, and doing bumper cars (among other things) we decided to call it a night. We managed to blow through about $50 in a couple of hours. Amazing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Outing of the Week 7 - Swimming & Take Your Daughter to Work

I am exhausted after last week, both emotionally and physically. L's school supplies arrived Thursday morning, so I spent several hours cleaning and organizing the school room. J's are due to arrive today. The girls and I decided that we needed to take a break that afternoon and go to the pool. It was lovely! We always go after 2 PM, when it starts clearing out to miss the crowds.

Friday morning was the funeral service for N. It was done by a group of Orthodox monks from their old congregation in Chicago. The musical chanting nearly put me into a trance. It was special to sit with a large group of people who loved her, and think about the small part of her life that I knew.

J was adamant about coming to the funeral with me. N's daughter is one of her good friends after all. I didn't have time to take her back to my mother's before heading to work (an hour and a half late already), so I had her pack a bag of quiet activities and let her hang out in our break room. My mother unexpectedly had an appointment in our building that morning, and came by to bring J home, but she refused to go.

She read a book until lunch. After lunch she colored and played with medical models with the surgeon's son. The last hour she spent helping in the front office with filing charts and photo copying!

When we returned home, L asked me "Is J a doctor? She said she worked in your office!"

Later that night, we had friends for dinner and basketball, and family arrived late to spend the weekend with us. Now I am looking over my calendar for the week, and already it is looking ominous.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The C Word

My friend lost her 3 year battle with breast cancer yesterday afternoon. The time when she started getting worse, to her death was fast...too fast. There were still so many things that I hoped to do with her. I actually called yesterday to find out if I could visit her while our girls were at the Library, only to find out that she was nearing the end.

N was part of the first play group that I was invited to be a part of when we were new in town. J was almost a year old at that point, and we knew no one! This group was made up mostly of women who were affiliated with our little University somehow...wives of professors, professors themselves, that kind of thing. They were so welcoming to little J and I, so safe and comforting.

Later on, N helped me get hooked up with the local Home School group when J and I started Cyber School. Our girls have been buddies, going to Pioneer Camp, Library, and soccer together.

As a medical professional, I understand that cancer just...happens sometimes. An otherwise normal cell mutates for some unknown reason, and wreaks havoc on the body.

As a mother, I have witnessed more than once, how cancer has stolen the futures of children and parents alike. I have felt, although thankfully not first hand, the holes that it can rip in the lives of families.

It is not fair that N will not be here to see her children grow up. It isn't fair that those beautiful children have to grow up without a mother. It isn't fair that her gentle and patient husband is now alone.

Life isn't fair, I understand that...but that hurts too. The one thing that I am grateful for is that N is no longer in pain. Now I hope that the love of this community can begin to wash away the pain her family feels in her absence.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Images From My IPod

This summer, I have been listening to my IPod while working in the garden. You must understand that this little gem was completely unused for over a year after it was given to me, because I had absolutely no idea how to use it. Over the next year and a half, I have managed to put about 25-30 of our CDs on it, as well as download a handful of MP3s. So...now I am using it to entertain myself while I slave in the sun.

I have to admit that I am usually the kind of music listener who keeps it as background music, unless I'm need to get pumped up, and then I'll blast something with a beat and sing at the top of my lungs. Listening on the IPod though, there are no interruptions, and I am able to appreciate lyrics a lot more.

Here are some images I picked up today:

"If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane" - Changes in Latitudes - Jimmy Buffet

"I will never get old 'cause I feel so young" - Alive - Dala

"It's a cruel, crazy, beautiful world" - Cruel Crazy Beautiful World - Johnny Clegg & Savuka

"I wanna be your lover not your #&$*ing mother" - Circle the Drain - Katy Perry

"Life's a journey not a destination" - Amazing - Aerosmith

"This morning I shot 6 holes in my freezer. I think I've got cabin fever!" - Boat Drinks - Jimmy Buffet

"Sun kissed skin so hot it melts your popsicle" - California Gurls - Katy Perry

While enjoying all these images (and more) this morning, I got 3 garden beds weeded, and planted Fall peas, spinach and dill. Next up: asparagus.