Monday, August 30, 2010

An Insect Gathering

Along the fenceline that divides our property from the neighboring pasture, there are a number of large, old trees. One of these is a huge oak tree that is one of our favorite trees on our property. And a unique thing about this tree is that, due to the sap that seeps out in a few places along the base of the tree, it is quite the attractant to insects. This year there have been large numbers of butterflies, cicada killers, horse flies, and other insect species that gather there . . .

A Red-Spotted Purple (the large butterfly), a horsefly, another fly species, two cicada killers, and a Hackberry Emperor butterfly

It is fascinating to just sit and watch these tiny creatures . . . the amazing de
tail; the way they use their wings, feet, tongues and eyes; the "pecking order" that is among the species; and much more. What evidence they are to the wisdom of the Creator!

And since the insects are so intent on gathering the sap, they pretty much pay no mind to me getting up close to them or
photographing them . . .

On another part of the tree, I found this conglomeration of mostly butterflies . . . the most common species was by far the Question Mark (which is also in the below photo)

A Question Mark - can you see the "?" on its hind wing? There is another butterfly species that is nearly identical to this one, and it is called a "Comma" due to it having a comma shape on the wing instead of the question mark.

A Hackberry Emperor

A Red Admiral

I just love seeing the intricate design, variety, and colors of these beautiful little creatures!

And while out photographing the insects, I photographed a few other things as well, such as these sunflowers . . .

There are hardly any flowers blooming right now, so it is an especial treat to have the sunflowers in bloom. They are also an indication that summer is nearing its end and fall is on its way!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Up and Growing

The green beans began poking above the soil last week, and have so far, been growing very well! And the deer and rabbits have left them alone, too, which has been nice. :)

I also had planted some yellow squash and zucchini seeds and those are up as well . . .

We've never grown these as a fall crop before, but since I had the seeds, I thought I would give it a try! :) We weren't able to enjoy much yellow squash or zucchini this spring before the plants died from a fungal disease, so I am really hoping that before the first frost comes, we'll be able to harvest some off of these growing plants.

Canning has been taking place in small amounts here lately, and yesterday, I canned some wild plum jelly. Or maybe it's syrup. ;) With this type of jelly, the 'sheet test' isn't used, as the jelly firms up in the jars. Last year it seemed that there was a little too much pectin used as the jelly ended up being pretty thick. So it was requested to use less pectin this time around . . . and since I had attempted to make syrup last year and didn't put any pectin in it and it still firmed up some, we thought that a half package of pectin would produce the right consistency of jelly. Well . . . this year's fruit must not have had as much natural pectin in it as in previous years because the batch I made yesterday turned out more like syrup instead of jelly! :) Since we still have quite a bit of jelly left over from last year, though, we didn't especially need this jelly, and now we have the unexpected treat of syrup for our pancakes! It will be interesting to see how it tastes. :)

Here's a little glimpse into the wild plum jelly making process . . .

Simmering plums

Before simmering, the plums needed to be crushed, and after the experiences of last year, I had a different system for this year! One, was to crush the plums outside. It made quite a mess inside last year, but as the juice is clear when fresh (and later turns brown after it dries), we hadn't realized what a mess was being made until after the crushing of the plums was all finished. Another thing learned, which relates to this, is to always wear old clothes when crushing the plums. The reason why being that while the plum juice is at first not noticeable on clothing due to it being mostly clear, after the clothing is washed, the juice turns from being clear and unnoticeable to being distinctive brown stains. (Again, this was learned from experience. :) So this year found me sitting out in the shade on our flat bed trailer listening to and watching the birds flit around in the trees as the plums were being crushed. It was rather pleasant! :)

Once the plums were crushed, had simmered, and had the juice drained from them, it was time to start the actual canning process of the jelly . . .

Stirring down the jelly while it boils for one minute

And after the canning process is complete! Seven jars of wild plum jelly/syrup :) (Plus two jars in the fridge that didn't fit in the canner.)

Out of our few pickling cucumbers we harvested this year, I also made some dill pickles . . . one of Daddy's favorite canned goods!

Summer activities are beginning to wind down as we begin to anticipate the coming fall. Lately in the early mornings, the feeling of fall is in the air . . . the grass is heavy with dew, the air has a cooler 'fallish' feel to it, and then the leaves are beginning to fall from the walnut trees as well. And we're back to having windows open in the evenings to the early mornings . . . so pleasant!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bottle Collection

In the space of a few minutes, I went from having one bottle (a milk bottle from the place my Mom got her school milk from when she was a girl) to having a whole collection of them! When we were down in South Carolina, Sayre Castlebury showed us some of the bottles that he had found recently (in ditches, in the woods, etc.), and it was so fun looking at them all. Then he was so kind as to send a whole box of bottles back with Ryan and Ashley for me as he knew that I would like them. It was such a surprise, and it was so fun looking at all of the different bottles! And then of course, figuring out where all to put them and what to use them for. :) We don't have really any flowers in our gardens now, but I can just envision little bouquets in a number of these bottles brightening up little corners of the rooms. Thank you so much, Sayre! :)

This isn't all of them, but the shapes, colors and sizes of these ones just seemed to go together . . . Which is your favorite?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Birthday . . .

~ Happy 22nd Birthday, Leah! ~

What a great blessing you are to our family, and how
very thankful I am that you are my sister! I love you so much!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Happiness is . . .

. . . basketfuls of fresh picked wild plums to be made into jelly . . .

. . . the scent of thyme as it drys
in the dehydrator . . .

. . . oatmeal wheat bread rising on the counter . . .

. . . cooler temperatures which make spending time outdoors so much more pleasant . . .

. . . having the fall crop of beans all planted . . .

. . . much less humidity outside! . . .

. . . seeing the handiwork of God . . .

. . . And most significantly right now, happiness that Mandy (Leah's Golden Retriever) is going to be all right after needing emergency surgery last week (without it she would have died.)
The surgery was last Thursday, she came home on Saturday, and today it looks like she has made a turn for the better and is improving.

Mandy resting

She has been getting lots of loving, and we're enjoying seeing traces of her 'old self' beginning to return!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Finished Tea Towels

While sitting in the hospital waiting room back on the day when Mama had her neck surgery, I had the opportunity to work quite a bit on the tea towels that I was embroidering. And shortly after that day, I was able to finish them . . .

This was such a fun project to do, and now I am looking forward to either using the towels sometime or decorating with them!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Making Mints

Here is the recipe for the mints (plus a bit of a tutorial as well :) for those of you who requested it!

Cream Cheese Mints

--1 (3 oz.) package of cream cheese, softened
--1 Tbsp. butter, softened
--3 cups confectioners' sugar
--1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
--food coloring of your choice

First put the softened butter and cream cheese into a bowl, add the powdered sugar, and begin stirring. It will be very dry at first, and if you are anything like I was, you will wonder "what's wrong?" Never fear, though! Just keep stirring! And eventually, it will start to look like this . . .

When I got to this point, I went ahead and added the food coloring (about four drops, if I remember correctly) and the peppermint extract. Then . . . stir some more! Eventually it should begin to look like this . . .

After just a bit more stirring to get the food coloring completely mixed in, use a spoon to scrape the mixture into one large piece in the bowl, and then use your hands to shape it into a ball. Once it is into a ball, divide in half and place one half onto a piece of waxed paper (I put a cutting board underneath of the piece I used so I wouldn't scratch/cut the counter in the next step.) Roll out to the thickness you would like the mints to be, and then use a pizza cutter to cut them into little squares like this . . .

Once that was done, I removed the edge pieces that were not full squares, and then one square at a time, shaped them, placed them on a waxed covered cookie sheet, and then repeated the past few steps with the other half of the mixture . . .

At this point, they went into the freezer until they were hard; then they were removed and I let them sit for a bit to get a little moist on the outside. Once that happened, they were added a few at a time into a sandwich bag of sugar; after which the bag was shaken, the mints were coated, and voila! You have your mints . . .

The mints need to be stored in either a refrigerator or freezer until they are ready to be used. We put ours in the freezer which worked well. And are they ever good! :) I hope that you all enjoy them as much as we did!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fresh from the Garden

Watermelon has become one thing from the garden that I eagerly anticipate when it is ready to harvest! There isn't much that tastes better than ice cold, juicy, sweet watermelon :) (especially on hot summer days like we have been having lately!) We were able to harvest our first melon the other day and yesterday harvested our second.

A watermelon in the garden that is just about ready to harvest

The chickens like this time of year, too, as they love the watermelon rinds! They always come running when they see Leah or I walking out to their pen carrying something. :)

This year, having a harvest of watermelons has especially
been a blessing as it is just about the only thing we are getting from the garden now. While we were gone in South Carolina for the wedding, the deer completely destroyed both of the large green bean plantings and all of the carrots, and fungus killed the zucchini plants and most of the yellow squash. And since the onion crop and tomatoes were already lost to fungus, all that remains now is the winter squash, melons, cucumbers and peppers.

Pickling cucumbers that should begin producing soon - then it will be time to make pickles! :) The trellis they are on is one that I made earlier this year, and so far it is working well. (And yes, there are weeds in the foreground. :) The month before the wedding we were so busy that I got way behind in weeding - now I am in the process of catching up!)

One of our 'mystery squash' (and those of you who were reading this blog last year will probably remember them! :)

So now I have started planning for a fall crop of beans and then some cool weather crops as well. I am hoping to get the beans planted in the next week and then we are going to put a temporary fence around them to keep the deer out. (For next year, we are planning to put in an electric fence around the entire garden and our fruit trees which will be very nice!) I am really hoping we get a good crop of beans this fall . . . I can't imagine a year without them! We usually put up 80+ pounds in the freezer (and sell a bunch more) and this year I only got six pounds put up before the deer destroyed everything. Hopefully the plants will do really well! :)

In spite of all that, though, I have been able to do a little bit of canning which has been enjoyable! It's not much, and not nearly as much as what I had planned on doing, but some is better than none. :)

Canned tomatoes and sweet cucumber relish

And now the wild plums are beginning to ripen as well . . .

It won't be long before it is time to make wild plum jelly again, and I am looking forward to that!

Monday, August 2, 2010

South Carolina Days

Before the days of the rehearsal and wedding, we were able to spend some time with the Castlebury's and enjoyed visiting, taking care of animals together, and a number of other things as well . . .

Daddy and Sawyer petting Odie (Sayre's dog) - he's such a sweetie!

Ryan and Ashley working on thank you notes together

At one point, Mr. Castlebury, Daddy, Sayre, Leah and I drove out to Bull Run to see the cattle and all which was enjoyable! I really like cattle, and as always, enjoyed photographing them some . . .

One of the calves - I love it's face!

This cow was quite curious and friendly, and almost touched my hand

Daddy and Sayre visiting

Leah and Sayre taking care of the chickens. Sayre was so kind to let Leah and I help him with his morning and evening animal chores. It was a lot of fun to do! And it was enjoyable seeing all of his critters . . . goats, ducks, rabbits, and then the family's chickens as well.

Meanwhile Collin was using the tractor for something, and he was letting Sawyer help him . . . what a nice big brother! And from the sounds and looks of things, Sawyer had a blast. :)

Leah throwing out feed for the ducks. One of Sayre's goats is behind her . . . they are pretty little animals, and I finally got one of them to eat out of my hand!

Me and my little buddy who wants to marry me when he grows up. :) He's a special little guy!