Sunday, May 23, 2010

In a Pickle

"In a pickle" - seriously, they just come to me! It's a gift!

After my sun-worshipping session yesterday at the water park, I was searching high and low for something to do inside. The last thing I wanted to feel on my scorched skin was more solar power. And it just so happens that we've become overrun with certain vegetables - pickling cukes, to be exact.

Big John had a fairly early night and was up before the brunch hour today. We decided that, as a team, we could conquer the unfamiliar territory of pickle making. Alone, I'd been too afraid; but together, we can do anything (sounds naive, even to me!)

With 15 pounds of cucmbers fresh off the vine, Big John took over slicing duty.

I was in charge of cooking the pickling juice.

It just so happens that we'd seen a jar of bread and butter pickles with jalapenos at the store. The only thing we have more of than cucumbers is jalapenos. Big John wanted to go for it, so we did! Most of our bread and butter jars have several slices of jalapeno in the bottom. And once we ran out of cucmbers, we just pickled peppers - in bread and butter juice. Hmmm.... we'll see how that tastes.

I'm fixing to google how to pack the jars tighter, so the contents don't float. We thought we'd filled them as full as we could, but obviously not! Such an amateur move! (If you know this canning secret, please share.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Ranger made it home today!

Big John has been working like crazy, trying to get the pens outfitted for Ranger's return. Unfortunately for Ranger, he's been prescribed "stall rest" for the next 6 weeks. Yes, 6 weeks. That's 42 days. 1008 hours. 60,480 minutes. 3,628,800 seconds. And believe me, it's going to feel like every bit of that. Poor Ranger.

I spent ALL day at a nearby water park with 50 sixth graders! Fun in the sun! Big John spent all day rigging the pen, loading up on feed and hay, getting detailed instructions on horse doctorin', hauling Ranger home, and trying to get him settled. It seems that Ranger has spent all day pacing. I'm not sure where the "rest" part of "stall rest" fits in. It looks like Roxy is a lot more relaxed now that he's back, but it's very clear that Ranger has no idea what he's done to deserve this shoddy treatment. Many, many dollars later, we're still not sure of the long-range forcast. We're going to follow the treatment plan, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. It's pretty certain that there will be a permanent impact on his knee joint, and that lameness will set in at an earlier age than usual. But for now, we're just happy to have him home!

I always wanted to be a vet - guess I can "play one on TV!" Wish us luck - seems there's never a dull moment out on the farm.

Happy Homecoming, Ranger!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Young 'Uns

These are the funniest 3 calves we've had in a while. All three bull calves (1 steer, 2 fixin' to be) born within the same week, they've been fast friends since they hit the ground. They're always together, buckin' and snortin', chasing each other or the dogs. Once they get tired and get fed, they bed down together in front of the house.

The funniest part is, somewhere around 8:00, they'll realize they've been left. The cows have moved on to graze and bed down for the night. These three amigos will start in, bawlin' and hollerin', until somebody's mama gets tired of hearing it and calls them. Then they're off to the races - happy to be "found" - runnin' and buckin', snortin' and kickin'. And we get to watch it all over again tomorrow!

Horse Troubles

We should have seen it coming. The garden is growing like a weed (so are the weeds), work is fine (7 1/2 days of school left), we're healthy enough for our age, finances are ok, we're making BIG plans for the future. Something's got to go wrong, RIGHT?

We were at the barn Sunday and I noticed Ranger make a funny turn. His right knee was pretty swollen, and he had a dime-sized hole right in the middle of the joint. We all know a horse's joints are nothing to sneeze at, but it was Sunday, after all. He was still getting around on it, so we waited to take him to the vet yesterday. I had taken the day off to "catch up" on things - ha!

Turns out, Ranger will be spending the next several days at the fanciest equine facility I've seen. If we'd given him a shot of antibiotic on Sunday, that probably would have improved his chances, but as it is he'll have the wound flushed several times a day and is on high doses of the good stuff. With just a preliminary exam, we were given about a 60% chance that he won't end up lame. We're hoping that number goes way up! We already support 2 horses that are way past their prime. We don't need another one on the dole. I can just hear Daddy now: "It's a horse, Susie, not a pet."

And just in case we weren't feeling bad enough about him getting hurt, he made sure to holler and carry on as we walked out of the holding stall. Just about broke my heart in two. We drove up to the house, with an empty trailer, to see Roxy - my mare - going nuts, looking for Ranger. Big John and I had talked on the way home about how glad Roxy would be that Ranger won't be bugging her for a few days. Guess we were wrong. It just goes to show, you don't know how much you care about someone until they're gone! And poor Big John. Ranger is his first horse, and they were really getting along well. You know how hard it is to find the "right" horse - one that fits a rider in as many ways as possible. Ranger fits Big John. And he's a sweetie - they both are.

Keep your fingers and toes crossed. We told the vet to call us at $1000, and we'll have to make some decisions.

Hey, who needs kids when you've got horses?

As Seen on

Guess what, y'all! I've been invited to be a blogger on! Wow!

Grit is a magazine geared toward the rural lifestyle, with an empahsis on small farms, livestock, gardening, homesteading, cooking - all the things I love! I found the magazine at Tractor Supply one day and subscribed as soon as I got home. I noticed on their website that they allow subscribers to apply to become bloggers for their online site. I did, and they accepted me! I can't wait to post my first blog - sometime this week, if all goes well.
So if you can't get your fill of me here (don't say it!) you can check me out at And who knows what's next? Maybe a guest appearance on RFD TV...

You might want to get your autographs now, while the line is short!

Monday, May 17, 2010

We're Jammin'

I finally had some time in the kitchen yesterday afternoon. It seemed that all the chores had been done - ok, that never happens, but MOST of the chores had been done. Big John was getting the boat ready for a day of fishing, so it was time for me to get something done with all those dewberries.

Everything went well. The boiling berries didn't splatter past my oven mitt (man, that hot berrry juice hurts) and I heard 6 "pings" a few minutes after I took the jars out of their water bath. Now all we need are some homemade pancakes. Pancakes and dewberry jelly - it don't get no better than that!

One gallon of berries down, a freezer full to go. I'll have plenty to do this winter!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rain IS a Good Thing!

I didn't want to say the "d" word (drought), but it was definitley on everyone's minds. After the dry year we had last year, this winter's rains were like a band-aid. They helped the situation, but we needed moisture. And we just weren't getting any to speak of. I've even started putting out feelers for hay - from out of state, if necessary. We're hoping to avoid feeding stubble again this year.

Well, the weather man pulled through this time. The rain started yesterday evening. We woke up this morning to this beautiful sight:

And then this morning, God blessed us again!
We're now up to 3 1/2 inches, with a possiblity of more this weekend!

The rain stopped just long enough this morning for Big John and me to trim the tomato plants and pick some beans and squash. It'll be amazing to see how much better everything does on rain water. I've started to worry about the strain we're putting on the well - we've looked at some holding tanks and discussed the possiblity of drilling another well, but it all costs money. Rain is free!

And just like the song says, "Rain is a good thing!" Thank you, Lord!

Friday, May 14, 2010

First Harvest

We're starting to see some fruits (and vegetables) of our labor! The spinach and lettuce were all pulled up last week and are waiting their turn in the ice box. I don't think I'll eat salad again until next fall - there's nothing like a fresh head of buttercrunch or red leaf. We'll pull up the rest of the cabbage this weekend.

I've found a recipe for saurkraut that looks promising, and we'll have 5 big gorgeous heads of green cabbage to save. We can only eat so much coleslaw! And we'd hoped to start the pickle production, but I don't think we've got enough cucumbers ready yet. But they're coming on.

One thing's for sure - we've got plenty of dewberries. We'll be making dewberry jam by the bucketfuls! Get ready Friends and Family - Christmas gifts will probably be canned goods this year! Yum!

The Dewberry Chronicles

I know - you're getting sick of dewberries! Just one more thing ... a few of us "dewberry fanatics" were comparing notes the other day. And it got me to wondering - what kind of dewberry cobbler do YOU make? I didn't realize there were so many different types. So I've done a little research, and I promised the girls that I wouldn't publish any secret recipes. Here are my preliminary findings:
  • "simple" cobbler: alternating layers of pie crust, butter, dewberries, sugar - repeat until you run out of dewberries or reach the top of the pie pan - very easy if you use store-bought crusts (but not as good as homemade)
  • "hasty" cobbler: this one has a cake-like batter (think: peach cobbler) poured over the dewberries - makes its own crust (Sally shared a sample of hers with me - I think it's my new favorite!)
  • custard-like cobbler:  combine dewberries and homemade custard, pour into pie crust and bake - very gourmet
  • crumb-topped cobbler: sugared dewberries in a pie crust, topped with a crumb topping - yum!
Now doesn't that look delicious?

Is your family recipe different? Please share - and give one of these a try. Hey, if it's got dewberries in it, you can't go wrong. Am I right?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dewberry Musings

"Gonna pick dewberries today, Susie?" Big John asked as he headed off to work yesterday.
"Nope. I'm going to rest my back and finish up some yard work. Not today."

Well, that was the plan anyway. My mission was to tackle the Flower Bed from Hell (it actually has a name). I didn't want to - for reasons that should be obvious from the name - so I decided to get the camera out and capture some moments in nature. Look how gorgeous this prickly pear blossom is!

We must have lost the cannas from our hard winter, so I got those replanted. Big John is convinced the dogs and chickens had a hand in the death of the cannas. (There were a lot of holes wallowed out in that bed.) I've since added a chicken wire fence around the canna bed - sort of kills the overall effect.

Here's the main reason I'm not a flower gardener - the hens are SURE that anything in the yard, or trap, or pens, or garage ... is meant to be eaten, or scratched, or laid on ... but most assuredly POOPED on.

A close-up of a wooly worm (can you see that I'm REALLY not wanting to tackle that flower bed? I'm taking pictures of WORMS!)

A shot of the house from the back - sure would look better with barn red working shutters all around. (And no, we don't live on a hill - we live on the Coastal Plains - I have tilt issues when cameras are involved!)

Tick and Daisy cooled off in the tank.

So, one thing led to another and I found myself deep in the middle of an as-of-yet-undiscoverd patch of some big, juicy, plump purple-black berries. And I just couldn't resist! I made off with just enough for one more little pie. Can't wait to get home and have a bite.

So I got to thinking as I was picking... maybe some of you haven't ever had the pleasure of picking dewberries. There are some general guidelines that make it a lot easier and a lot more productive. They aren't rules, per se, just some helpful tips. And everyone has their own style of pickin' - this is just what I've figured out over the years.
  1. Bring a stick. A big, long, sturdy "walking" stick comes in real handy, in several ways. You can use it to part the vines for easier access to the berries. It's a great weapon against snakes while you're waiting for someone to come runnin' with the hoe. When you get tired of bending over to look for those little jewels, you can use it to rummage around in there and see if you find anything worth bending over to pick. And finally, when your back gets REALLY tired, you can use that stick to help you stand back up!
  2. Carry a hoe. Snakes love dewberry patches, too.
  3. Bring a dog - or three! If your dogs are like mine, they won't let you go without them anyway. Dogs are good for a couple of reasons. They're great snake detectors - they'll usually let you know ahead of time when they've found a snake. (That's when you holler for the person carrying the hoe.) Once in a while, the dog won't know there's a snake until the snake tells him. That's still good for you. Trust me, their vet bill will cost a lot less than your hospital bill. And if you've got a berry-eatin' dog, like Daisy, just listen for the sound of a hog rootin' around - that's Daisy finding berries. Run quick to where she's at or she'll eat all she finds!
  4. Look for red. More times than not, if you see a red berry, you'll find a ripe berry. And if you find one ripe dewberry, look just a little harder. I've yet to pick just one ripe dewberry from a vine. Look close and you'll find at least one more.
  5. Once you've picked all you can from a bush, walk away, turn around and look from the other side. Mother Nature has a wonderful way of hiding her ripe dewberries. You'll usually find just as many looking at that same bush from the other direction.
  6. Don't get a manicure in the middle of dewberry season - it's like throwing money down the drain. Depending on the circles you run in, either everyone will think you have dirty fingernails - or all your friends will have hands that look just like yours. It's the sign of a good crop! And don't be afraid to compare battle scars! Real women don't mind a few scratches now and then!
  7. Live by the Bluebell motto: Eat what you can and freeze the rest. You never know how next year will shake out. You might need some of those berries next summer!
  8. Follow Big John. His dewberry philosophy is simple - he only goes for the big fat ones right on top. He's not going to dig around and pluck every single ripe berry from that vine. If you follow right along after him, you're sure to find several he's left behind. Just don't let him know what you're up to. He doesn't think it's "berry" funny!
Hope you're having a great day wherever you are. We're off to pick some more dewberries. "Make hay while the sun shines."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Blog Magic


I'm posting this for some of my new readers - and 'cause I just discovered it and thought you might not have noticed this yet. At the top of the blog, kind of to the left of center, there is a spot that says, "Next Blog >>." Do you see it? Go ahead, scroll to the top of this one and find it. I'll wait ...

Okay, when you click that, it takes you out of the blog you're reading and into another one. Someone else's blog altogether. The COOL part is that I think the blog magicians know what kind of content you're interested in. Every time I've clicked that spot, it's taken me to someone's blog that is about chickens, or cows, or gardening, or sustainable living, or horses. How do they do that???? It's like the Wizard of Oz is living in my computer. That's one more thing I don't understand about the internet. I wish Al Gore would answer my emails ...

Just thought you'd want to know. I've done my part to educate the world today. Now it's back to the garden! Have a great day!

Summer To-Do List

WOW! There are only 14 more days until summer break! This school year has flown by - even my 6th-wannabe 7th graders think so. They've been a good group, overall. Since I don't have kids of my own, I probably invest too much of my heart in them. Unfortunately, too many of them need someone else to care about them. Some don't get enough of that at home. I'll be a tiny bit sad to see them walk out of the school doors on that last day - but don't worry, I'll be over it by the time I drive out of the parking lot! And it will be fun to run into them next year, as big tough Jr. High Schoolers. Hopefully we'll all have fond memories of the year we spent together!

Last summer, being the first I've had off in 8 years, went by in a flash. We had the big bathroom project to start and finish (still LOVE my bathroom, Big John!), lots of gardening and canning, a trip to Vernon/Arkansas, then home to get ready for the start of school. I seem to remember that my energy did peter out once we returned from Arkansas, but there were only a couple of weeks between the trip and inservice. I'm determined this year to pace myself and get lots more accomplished!

I've started my mental to-do list. As peri-menopause approaches, this old grey mare ain't what she used to be! I figured I should write some of these great ideas down, so's I don't forget 'em. I'm already starting to worry that my eyes are bigger than my stomach, so to speak. This year I've gotten out a calendar, we've planned all the days off that Big John has, a week of "vacation" for him in June (that's for honey-dos that he doesn't know about), a week or more off in July to see Su and Dyke, then head to visit Big John's family in Arkansas, and many more days than I'd like of school workshops. Even with all those days accounted for, I still have 45 days to myself. Here's my list of things I'd love to get done:
  • paint the living room
  • redo the walls in our bedroom to match the bathroom
  • get bees and start a beehive
  • take a sewing class
  • clean out the attic (this is a hold-over from last summer - ugh)
  • tile the birdbath in a mosaic pattern
  • stain the front porch and back patio (concrete)
  • build a pergola on the west garage wall
  • build working shutters (hold-over from the LAST HURRICANE, Big John)
  • strip, clean, and reseal the kitchen floor - saltillo tile
  • rearrange the pantry shelves
  • can/freeze/preserve everything in sight
  • go to garage sales
  • go antique shopping
  • lose 15 pounds (hold-over from age 12 - double ugh)
Okay, that's a list of 15 vital items that must be done before August 17th. If I allow 3 days per job, it should be no problem! Check back in August to see how well that worked. I have a sinking feeling that some of these might make next year's list! I promise to post before-during-after pics of anything I tackle. At least I won't be bored!