Some of my best childhood memories involve being outside. We lived on just under six acres across the street from Whippoorwill Farm, where my grandparents and two of my uncles raised crops and milked Holsteins.  Holsteins are the black and white bovines that you see standing in the fields when you’re in farm country. Including my Mom, four out of her six siblings lived within a mile of each other. 

8533 Sharon Hollow Rd8533 Sharon Hollow Road, Manchester MI

There were a number of barns and buildings on the property. When you’re a kid, that translates into places to hide, create forts, explore, and do stuff your parents probably wouldn’t approve of.  Years after it happened, we kids: my older sister, younger brother and younger sister, confessed that we really did hear Mom calling us at times, but pretended that we couldn’t because we didn’t want to go in the house and get stuck with doing housecleaning or some other unpleasant task.  We also confessed to tossing some of the chickens out the barn window to see how well they could fly.  There were just fine – sure, a little scared – but no chickens were harmed in our experiments.  A couple of them got even by chasing us and pecking our calves when we couldn’t outrun them.

There was a pool in the side yard where I learned to swim.  To this day, I don’t like putting my face under water, but I can do a pretty respectable doggy paddle.  It was so relaxing to float on my back and feel the sunshine on my face.  Slathering ourselves with sunscreen was unheard of then, but I don’t remember ever getting badly sunburned despite spending hours in the pool. 

On weekends we’d gather up all the relatives for a softball game.  Since I couldn’t really throw or catch, I was usually the pitcher.  That was a good spot except for the times I got drilled in the forehead with a line drive.  It was fine, though, just a bruise.  I’m quite certain there was no lasting brain damage or anything.

Since the property was once a working farm, there were all kinds of fruit trees behind the house.  There were two tart cherry trees, a peach tree, a mulberry tree, and several pear trees.  There were also raspberry bushes.  Mom would bake us cherry pies and can pears for us to eat all year.  It was so awesome to just go outside and pick a ripe juicy pear – no store bought pear has ever tasted that good. 

After the sun went down it was time to jump rope under the pole light.  Bats would flit around overhead, chasing after bugs, but we weren’t the least bit concerned about them.  It seemed like every night we got to have ice cream cones filled with orange sherbet or neapolitan ice cream.  Neither of those flavors appeal to me today, but then it was the best and most refreshing of treats.  If we’d grilled hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, we would get to have s’mores once the coals were just glowing embers.  Summer never tasted so sweet!

SmoresI’m the one with the big hair sitting in the lawn chair.

Winter was fun too.  The house stood on a big hill and was great for sledding.  One year there was an ice storm and it was so fun to slide down the ice covered snow.  It was beautiful, too, the whole world looked like it was encased in glass.  Cold didn’t seem to bother me then and Mom usually had a cup of hot chocolate for us when we came inside.

Lest you think it was all fun and games all the time, we had chickens, ducks, heifers from my grandpa’s farm, the occasional pig and sheep, plus cats and dogs and a goose named Stanley.  They had to be fed and watered twice a day, stalls had to be cleaned out, and eggs needed to be gathered.  We had to lead our sheep Sara to different areas of the yard to eat a circle around the trees we chained her to.  There were even a couple of ponies for a while, but much to our disappointment, we never got to ride them.  There was always a huge garden that needed to be weeded, or worse yet debugged.  It was bad when we had to pick off the potato bugs, but the worst was finding big, fat hornworms on the tomato plants.  I was always sure that they were going to somehow curl up and sting me with that pointy thing on the end of their bodies.  There was absolutely no remorse as I tossed them to the chickens – tomatoes are my favorite and I wasn’t about to share with the likes of them!

Raking in the FallNotice that I’m working while the others watch.  Mmmhmm.

There were also opportunities to learn about wildlife when we encountered chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, weasels, and skunks.  Not all of those memories are pleasant, however, so they don’t belong in this post.

When it’s really nice outside, I still have the urge to go off and explore, to check out what’s happening in nature, and to look for good things to eat.  Sometimes I’ll see the perfect tree and think about how fun it would be to climb it or build a treehouse in it.  If there aren’t too many bugs, I still enjoy taking a chair or blanket outside to read and there’s nothing as relaxing as swaying back and forth in a wooden swing.  There’s something about the sun shining on me, soaking all the way into my bones, taking away all the worries and responsibilities of being a grown up, making me feel like I’m a kid again.  Favorite Pine Tree It was before we had hair products, okay?

Why You Should Grow and Preserve Food

Even though it was unplanned, there was a cooking spree tonight at my house.  Nothing fancy, a lasagna for a snack day at work tomorrow and some goulash.  What made the goulash special, though, was the fact that I made it with Beth’s canned tomatoes, Linda’s canned tomato juice, and Rick’s oregano. 

No, this post is not about preparing for a future apocalypse, though I do feel that we are supposed to take advantage of the summer and fall harvests, making sure that we have something stored for the winter months.  Even though most of us live in a country where we can buy whatever we want or need whenever we want it, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t take a more proactive role in making sure the pantry is full.

Growing and preserving food makes us generous, and I’m not just talking about the time you or your neighbor planted those ten zucchini plants and you either gave away a bagful to everyone you know or you found a bag on your doorstep every morning.  There’s something about growing food that makes us want to share it with other people.  There’s a little bit of pride there, especially if you’re gifted with a green thumb and all your fruits and vegetables are photo worthy, but more than that, when you’ve been blessed with a bountiful harvest, you can’t help but want to share it with people. 

The same things happens when you put food by, for example, the ingredients I put in my goulash today.  Receiving these items that I knew had been grown, weeded, harvested and canned by people I care about, made them special.  I thought of all three of these people as I put together my meal. 

Sure, there are those times when you are the recipient of something canned that you’re just not sure about, like that stew from great aunt Lupy [giver and contents have been changed to protect the innocent] that looked so unappetizing but it was a gift so you couldn’t throw it away and you held onto it for years, moving it around the cupboard, until you finally fed it to the dog.  Even if you never actually ate it, it became a source of entertainment as other family members asked if you’d eaten it yet. 

Have you ever said, “Would you like some of this apple?  I bought it at the store last week?”  No, because you have no connection to it and it’s really just a commodity to be traded for money.  Food was created to be shared and enjoyed as a community.

It’s also incredibly rewarding to be the one who shares something you’ve created with your own hands.  Knowing how much the person is going to enjoy pouring hot fudge over a bowl of ice cream when it’s eighty-nine degrees outside or watching them take a bite of that soft ginger cookie that is not just delicious but also nutritious (ginger soothes the stomach, okay?) makes even the most stoic among us break into a grin.

If you love food as much as I do, and you haven’t done it yet, you need to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  You should buy it right now.  You can come back and read the post later, it will still be here.  If you’d like a book and simply can’t afford one, one will be provided to you if you post a comment and ask me for one.  I reserve the right to retract this statement if more people than my Mom are reading this post. 

Growing stuff is not that hard and I guarantee you will reap far more than you sow!  Share what you grow and preserve!  Thanks Beth, Linda, and Rick for sharing your bounty with me!


Fifty Things

Back in May, shortly after my post about all the food I had in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, I had an idea.  My inspiration stemmed from my guilt over having so many things when there are so many hungry people in the world.  So it came to me, what if I limited the foods I eat to a list of fifty carefully selected items?  Brilliant, I thought!  I wasted no time creating my list.  You might be surprised to know how quickly you can get to fifty items. 

On the list were things I eat every day: oatmeal, flax seeds, yogurt, milk, maple syrup (that’s just breakfast!), peanut butter, butter (of course!); staples like flour, sugar, honey, oil, yeast; fruits and veggies like lemons, limes, apples, blueberries, avocados, carrots, onions, potatoes and on and on.  Some items fell into broad categories, like pork and beef.  Ketchup and mustard rounded out the list. 

But wait.  What about mayo?  No worries, I thought, I can make that from the ingredients I’ve already listed – I made it twice in my lifetime, it wouldn’t be any big deal to make it regularly. 

Then I realized I’d neglected to add sunflower seeds.  And spinach.  Idea revision – what if I lumped like things together, like nuts instead of walnuts, cashews, pecans, and almonds and  beans instead of garbanzo beans and black beans and kidney beans, and of course squash could include zucchini, butternut, and acorn, right?  It’s my idea, I can have any rules I want!

When I first heard about the eat local movement, I jumped on the bandwagon.  It made sense to support my local farmers and grow at least some of my own food.  It made sense to eat food in season and not expect strawberries to taste delicious in the dead of winter.  It wasn’t a huge sacrifice to give up tropical fruit and seafood from the ocean (I was fortunate to live in Florida for a couple of years and consumed large quantities of both while I was there), but avocados?  What is life without guacamole or creamy avocado ice cream (it’s a thing – Google it!)?

The truth of the matter is that I live in a place where I can buy and eat pretty much anything I want, any time I want.  It’s available, it’s reasonably priced and really, why not? Yet it doesn’t feel right to live that way. Should I have virtually zero limits when others struggle to feed their families?

While I was doing my research for this post, I came across this article.  It’s pretty interesting to see what people are eating around the world.  There may be another post about that in the future.  The fifty things idea clearly needs a little more work, but in the meantime, I’m going to stick with buying and eating local (minus my avocados), eating food in season, and growing my own food when I can.