Sunrises and Sunset

There are plenty of reasons I like living in town.  Convenience to lots of things that are only several blocks away, having neighbors that I care about (and who care about me), being close to city services I might need.  The library is 12 blocks away, the Ace Hardware I love is about 6 blocks away, the coffee shop I visit with extreme regularity is 10 blocks away.

But one thing I don’t get here, living in the middle of town, are good views of the sunrises and sunsets.  And I have never seen such spectacular ones as I do here.  There is a saying here, “If God didn’t love the Broncos, then why did He make the sunsets orange?”  Our sunrises and sunsets are just amazing – blazes of color streaking across the sky, and the rising or setting sun highlighting the incredible texture of the clouds.

Fortunately, I’m a morning person and work early hours at my job, so I usually get to see sunrises as I’m commuting.  But sunsets are much more difficult, unless I happen to be in the right place at the right time.  And by “right place,” I mean not in the middle of town.

I’d love to live on the edge of town, with unobstructed views of the Front Range, and the eastern plains.  Since I don’t sleep much – I am always up before sunrise – I would spend a half-hour every morning watching the sunrise.  In the evening, I’d spend a half-hour watching the sunset.  I have taken so many pictures, none of which do any of the sunrises and sunsets justice.  And yes, I could drive away from town each day to look at the sunrises and sunsets, but wouldn’t it be more ideal if I could sit in my kitchen or my office and see them instead?  Or walk outside and see them from my yard?

Maybe someday, I’ll have that house on the edge of or just outside of town.  Close enough to still be convenient to all those city services, but far enough away from the city obstructions so that I can see those amazing golden hours.

Sunrises

sunrise Longmont coloradoSunrise Longmont ColoradoSunsets

Sunset Longmont ColoradoSunset Longmont Colorado

Posted on November 1st, 2015 by Momilies  |  No Comments »

I Swear, Mount Rushmore Was RIGHT THERE!

This is the third of three posts talking about Mom and my’s trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota.

I’m going to start today’s post with a bit of an addendum to last week’s post.  I forgot one small side trip we took on our way back to Rapid City after spending the day in Spearfish Canyon and Deadwood.  By this time, the weather had started to turn decidedly damp and cold, but we went for it anyway.

Back end of Pactola LakeThe man at the Pumphouse deli had recommended we go to Silver City, so that was our goal.  We never really made it, but we did  see some cool things anyway, despite the rain and cold.  We took this little two-lane road mostly covered in leaves, that was supposed to go to a lake and the aforementioned Silver City.  About a mile or so in, we crossed cattle gates, and signs telling us to watch for cattle.  We met no other traffic on the road, which wound tightly back and forth like a black snake.  We never saw any cattle.  But we did see turkey.  And we found the back end of the lake, a strange and creepy-looking access point that looked like it was probably a party spot for the local youth.  Still, it had its appeal.  There was a small feeder creek that I so badly wanted to cross, because on the other side was an upward path that looked like it broke into a clearing where you could see the whole lake.  But the creek was very cold, and the ground around it quite mushy, so I took a pass.

Strange rocks - look like pieces of paper.What we found most interesting about the spot was the strange rock.  It was fractured, looking for all the world like a row of books or paper, and like you could just peel one off with your fingers.  The rock was everywhere, with trees growing right out of it.  Mom has a thing for rocks – so she notices all of them.  But I think she was creeped out enough by the area that she was not interested in looking at the rocks.  I can’t really blame her.  There was such a strange feeling about the place.  The lake was actually a reservoir, which explains the strange back end of it.

More strange rocks - like books on a bookshelfI mentioned turkeys, too.  I often see turkey in Colorado, so I easily picked these out.  Turkey are very smart, and are hard to take pictures of, because they move away pretty quickly if you get within 50 feet of them.  Mom didn’t even see them when we first pass them.  I turned the car around and headed back so we could get pictures.  This is the best we got.  There were more than a dozen of them, but most were below the ridge of the road and quickly disappearing into the brush.

Wild Turkey Wild Turkey

 

 

 

 

That is the last of our adventures from Friday.  So now we move on to…

Mt. Rushmore!

Mt. Rushmore behind the fogI swear.  It was back there.  Actually, I don’t know if it was back there or not, but the signs all said it was.  When we got up on Saturday, it was actively raining and the fog was so thick we couldn’t see anything.  But we were hopeful that as the day warmed and the sun got higher, it would clear enough for us to enjoy the last leg of our trip.  We paid our eleven dollars to park, and made our way through the gates and into the complex.  Nothing looked familiar to me, but I think I was maybe 14 when we last went, some forty years ago. I’m sure a few things have changed.  The flags along the Avenue of the States were limp with rain, and an ugly, damp breeze was forcing everyone indoors.  The museum was interesting, and we enjoyed it, but we’d have enjoyed it more had we been able to actually see the monument.  I was pretty disappointed.  Fortunately, it’s not that far away, and maybe I’ll get to go back at some point.

Inside the museum at Mt. RushmoreMom noticed something interesting in the pictures in the museum.  Pictures showed workmen working on various parts of the project.  One man was wearing what appeared to be court/basketball shoes.  Most others were wearing boots, but this man was clinging to the rock with his feet, working on the rock in front of him.  Of course this was before OSHA, so can you imagine the safety risks all of these men took to do this monumental (pun intended) job?  You could tell who the bosses were, too.  They were wearing tailored slacks and dress shoes, even if they were standing on the rock, too.  Very interesting.

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What was cool about the entire area, despite the fog, was the predominance of water.  Just outside Rushmore was a Pactola Reservoir.  From what we could see through the fog, there were cabins and vacation homes, and we even found a beach and a marina.  It was windy, cold, spitting rain.  Not pleasant.  I watched with some amusement as one boat moored near, but not in, the marina, kept getting turned in circles by the wind.  I can’t imagine the stress on the mooring rope.  I wondered if at some point it would twist in two and the boat go floating across the reservoir and off into the sunset.

Beach at Pactola ReservoirPactola reservoir

Mountain Sheep in the Black Hills

 

 

 

Further down the road, we came upon Horsethief Lake.  By this time, the fog had lifted somewhat, but it was sprinkling and drippy, putting a complete hush over the mountains.  We saw mountain sheep on the road, which amused my mom.  Baby and Mama were wholly unconcerned with us, and didn’t even bother to pose for pictures.  They just kept to their business.  A few more turns in the road, and we came across Horsethief.  And what a pretty place it was.  It reminded me of the Pacific Northwest – the trees were dripping with moss, rain sprinkled quietly down onto the water, and a thin fog enveloped the higher trees.

Horsethief reservoirThere were walking trails, and fishing docks, and benches set in random places.  It was very peaceful, exceedingly quiet, and I could have stayed there all day.  Me, water, mountains, trees…I’m a happy girl.

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So pretty, but mom was cold, and I was wet, and it was time to head back south to Colorado.  We headed out of the Black Hills just after noon, and by 1:30 or so, we were in Custer, South Dakota.  What a fun little place.  As elsewhere in South Dakota, casinos were in the strangest places – on the back of gas stations, in between a pizza parlor and a hair salon, etc.  These weren’t the type of casinos that one usually thinks of.  They are small, storefront operations.  No big flashing lights or fancy hotels next to them.

Custer was the cutest place, the kind of place that when I travel through, I think it might be a nice place to live.  It was obvious it was a summer town, and many of the establishments were already closed for the season. We kept seeing these buffalo sculptures tucked near buildings, and had to stop and take a couple pictures.  Longmont has giant geese.  Custer had buffalos.

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They also had this.

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We found the perfect place to eat – The Purple Pie Place.  They were on their last full weekend before closing for the winter, so the menu was limited to just a couple of things.  I had chili, mom had a turkey and cranberry sandwich.  The place was just adorable.  We talked to our waiter.  He was also the owner, along with his parents.  They had already left for winter in Arizona, and he was in charge of closing up for the winter.  We asked him what he did all winter without the restaurant to run.  He said he went ice fishing a lot.  Sounds like a good way to spend a winter!

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And, of course, we couldn’t finish up our vacation without Vacation Pie.  Mine was cherry ala mode.  Mom had mixed berry.

sdvacationpieCan’t wait for our next trip together.  We may not get one next year, since my daughter’s wedding is happening in June and Mom will be here to help for that.  But going to try as hard as I can for us to still have a trip somehow.  They’ve become a tradition!

Posted on October 25th, 2015 by Momilies  |  1 Comment »

Spearfish Canyon

This is the second post in a series of three chronicling my mother and I’s annual trip. This year we headed through Wyoming to South Dakota and the Black Hills.

It rained overnight our first night.  The hotel was comfortable and warm, the breakfast delicious.  Mom and I have grown attached to our stays at LaQuinta Inns.  Since we are always traveling with her little dog Sophie, having a pet-friendly hotel is important.  LaQuinta always allows pets.  We even saw someone with a big fluffy cat walking it on a leash/harness outside.  The cat didn’t even seem to mind the rain.

Spearfish Canyon - north endBut the sun was trying to break through the clouds, so we packed our warm jackets and headed west to Spearfish, with the intent of going south through Spearfish Canyon.  I had been told by a new work colleague that the canyon was gorgeous and full of water falls.  He had spent much of his life in Spearfish, so I trusted him.  He knew what he was talking about.  And despite the mostly cloudy (although with some intermittent sun) day, it was indeed beautiful. (I’m going to spam you with lots of pictures at the end of his post.)

The first falls we came to were Bridal Veil Falls.  This set of falls was tall and thin, and part of Spearfish Creek, which had carved the canyon over the last tens of thousands of years.  This far north, the creek is rather narrow.  Mom and I were fascinated with the layers of rock in the canyon walls – some yellow, some white, some black as lava.  Other color in the canyon was provided by green leafy ferns and evergreen trees, yellow aspen, and red sumac.  Everywhere we looked was a burst of color – either rock or vegetation.

We kept watching the altitude on the GPS.  I’m used to higher altitudes, and assumed we were not very high, but there were points as we drove through the canyon where we got to over 5000 feet.  The roads were winding, some steep, with plenty of inclines and declines and switchbacks.  We would often round a curve and see water crashing over a falls in the distance, but then never see it again.  Spearfish falls was one of those – we caught a glimpse of it through the trees, but when we got to a sharp bend in the road that was also a wide spot in the road that included a restaurant, small hotel, and campgrounds, we could only see the very top of the falls where it started its descent.  We could hear the falls, but there was no way to actually see it.  There appeared to be a path below that we could have walked, had we been able to find how to get to it.  Later my coworker told me that that path was closed for renovation.  But I sure would have loved to see it from below.

A side road lead the way uphill to Roughlock Falls.  All along the way up to this point, we had seen places where the creek had been dammed to provide spillways.  Spearfish Canyon had been full of gold at one time, and the dams were used to power the gold mining operations.  Roughlock Falls was named because a road went through there – the miners and others used it to go up and down the mountains.  The road was so steep that they would chain the wheels of their wagons to descend, essentially “locking” the wheels so they would skid down the canyon rather than roll, overtaking their horses.  Looking at what we saw in that canyon, I cannot imagine the cojones it would take to make that descent.  Holy cow!

At the top of the little road, there was a picnic area, and event area (like for weddings).  We could hear the falls, and there was a nice paved path that descended to the falls and then to the creek.  The path was extremely steep, so we didn’t take it all the way down.  We knew if we went all the way down, we’d have to walk all the way back up.  Yeah, we’re wimps. :)  Everything was damp, whether from the falls or from the overnight moisture, it was hard to tell.  The fall colors were past their prime, but the view was gorgeous anyway.  The sun kept coming out, and the golden walls of the canyons just took my breath away.

Airstream TrailerOn our way back down the little road, we caught up with a beautiful little Airstream trailer and antique truck.  My mom talked for a bit with the older woman passenger in the truck.  She said that their trailer and truck were probably the most photographed in the country.  I can see why.  I cannot imagine taking such a setup into the mountains, especially with the steep switchbacks we had been traveling through.

One oddity about this day – we kept seeing Porsches on the roads.  We did manage to talk to someone that was driving one.  Apparently there was a Porsche convention going on in Rapid City, and events were being held in the Canyon as well.  I didn’t know there were that many Porsches in the world!

After the Canyon, we were on the east side of the Black Hills again.  We traveled the highway up to Lead (pronounced “leed”) and then Deadwood.  Lead was adorable, with cute little houses all tucked against the canyon walls.  The town wasn’t even 1/4 of a mile wide – set right along the road with nowhere to build away from the main drag.  And the homes in Lead and Deadwood were sweet Victorians in bright colors.  You could tell there was money in the area, by the houses.  Deadwood is one of the newest upcoming casino towns in South Dakota, which explains the money.  Everyone is doing well there due to that industry.

The Pump House cafeWe had a late lunch at the cutest little cafe after wandering around (and getting lost) in Deadwood.  It was in an old gas station.  The bay area (where they would have worked on cars) now housed a glass blowing operation.  The tiny “office” area was the deli/cafe.  All of the sandwiches were named after car parts or repairs.  Mine was the “Brake Pad,” meatloaf on ciabatta bread.  Mom’s turkey-and-cranberry sandwich was called “The Strut.”  Around the walls of the glass-blowing shop were all kinds of old metal signs that would have been in an old gas station.  And a shelf high on the walls in the deli side held old cans of oil and lubricants.  There were brand names I’d never heard of, and some that I remembered from my youth.  All of the windows had been filled with glass shelves that contained some of the wonderful glass art the artist had made.  When we were ready to leave, I took a few minutes to ask one of the deli clerks about the best way back to Rapid City.  He grabbed a tourist map and drew us a route that would take us through some really pretty scenery and almost back to our hotel’s doorstep.

By then, the weather had turned dreadful – dark, damp, and raining lightly, but we still very much enjoyed the drive.  We were near Rushmore and Crazy Horse at that point, and there were plenty of signs to tell us where to go.  But Rushmore was set for the next day, so we passed that by.  We did stop, however, to take a picture of the defunct “Presidents Park.”  “All 43 presidents,” the sign boasted.  “For Sale” was the bigger sign.  The area would have made great campgrounds, I imagine.  I should have called for pricing…

Enjoy the pictures below.  We still have more journey to go!

Me walking down the path to Roughlock Falls

 

Pictures from the Canyon, in no particular order.

SDSpearfishCanyon14 SDSpearfishCanyon13 SDSpearfishCanyon12 SDSpearfishCanyon11 SDSpearfishCanyon08 SDSpearfishCanyon10 SDSpearfishCanyon06 SDSpearfishCanyon05 SDSpearfishCanyon04 SDSpearfishCanyon03 SDSpearfishCanyon01Pictures of water – first Bridal Veil Falls.

SDBridalVeilFalls01Spearfish Creek.  The first is one of the pools created by the damming of the creek.  In the second one, there is a fisherman in waders on the bank.

SDSpearfishCanyon07SDSpearfishCanyon09Spearfish Falls – we could only see it from the top.

SDSpearfishFallsVarious pictures from Roughlock Falls.

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Houses in Lead and Deadwood.

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County Building in Deadwood. SDCountyBuilding

 

Posted on October 18th, 2015 by Momilies  |  No Comments »

Wall Drug, or, Kitsch City and the Leather Purse

This is the first post in a series of three chronicling my mother and I’s annual trip. This year we headed through Wyoming to South Dakota and the Black Hills.

For a grownup like me, a visit to Wall Drug seemed necessary on our trek to the Black Hills – it was a part of my childhood.  Not that it was on the way to where we were going (Rapid City), because it wasn’t.  We had to pass the black hills and head east nearly to the Badlands before we got there. It was grey, cool, breezy, and just not the best kind of weather for a vacation, but it didn’t matter.  It was vacation!  And I was with my mom! We started seeing the signs for Wall Drug before we even got to South Dakota.

Wall Drug cartoon

(In case you can’t read the caption, it says “Relax, Captain.  They pop up every 3 light years or so.”)

Mom and I both have strong memories of Wall Drug. I was probably fourteen or so when we visited it on one of our family vacations.  The signs warn you all along the way – through Nebraska, through  South Dakota, that it is coming.  Every couple of miles, it’s “Home of the Jackalope!” and “Free Ice Water!” and “Five Cent Coffee!”  And yes, it has all of those things, and so much more.  Basically, it’s a giant tourist trap full of all the kitsch you would imagine, but in the happy, hey-this-might-be-a-bargain kind of way sometimes.  It also has a real pharmacy, and carries real drug store items, along with the souvenir mugs, t-shirts, cowboy boots, and “Native American” textiles.  There are creepy animatronic displays (a band of cowboys playing banjo on a front porch), giant taxidermied animals, carved “wooden Indians,” and plenty of giant plastic animals out in the courtyard for the kids to climb on and have their picture taken with.

Wall Drug Store (since 1931)And it was nothing like my memories of it.  Actually, the only memory I had of it at all was the sign, which still looks the same, and the taxidermied “Jackalope.”  The Jackalope was nowhere to be found when we got there this year.  In the 70’s, when I would have first visited Wall Drug, the Jackalope was the draw.  It was on all the signs.  It was touted as the biggest and best reason for visiting Wall Drug.  I suppose after all these years, the stuffed Jackalope fell apart.  The only Jackalope I saw was the big plastic one in the courtyard (picture below).  My memory places the Jackalope on a long, wooden bar with brass footrails.  There was still a long, wooden bar with brass footrails, but it was actually the lunch counter, and full of plastic cases of cookies, donuts, and other ready-made food items, along with the afore-mentioned “five cent coffee.”

Me with the JackalopeWhat is a Jackalope?  Well, as the name might imply, it was a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope, both of which are prolific on the plains of Wyoming and South Dakota.  The Jackalope was a large jackrabbit fitted with the horns of a small antelope, as if the two had been bred together.  Yes, totally campy and cheesy.  But in the middle of South Dakota, you kind of need a marvel or two to get people to stop.

Wooden IndianWe ordered bison burgers at the lunch counter, and sat in the dining room to eat. Some of the look of that room was familiar, but I hadn’t remembered all the artwork.  Dozens of paintings hung around the walls, and we spent some time wandering around and looking at them all.  In fact, there was artwork all over the place, not just in the dining room.  There were also photos of local and national celebrities in hallways, and in the main inside walkway, plenty of totem poles, enormous taxidermied buffalo heads, and painted wooden saloon girl carvings that you could have your picture taken with.  There were a series of shops, all interconnected, hawking everything from $500 cowboy boots to $2 bumper stickers.  You could buy candles, Native American art, leather goods, clothing, camping gear, soaps and perfumes, knitted items, woodworking, tennis shoes, and all the postcards you could ever hope to send.

leather purseAnd there were bargains!  I bought my first-ever leather purse for under $10.  I also got fancy socks with wolves on them for Tater for $6, and an iconic Wall Drug t-shirt for Klown for $20.  I bought bumper stickers, a Wall Drug wall sign (is that redundant?), and pretty handmade copper earrings for my Perfect Child for $15.  Bargains!  I still spent over $50.  haha.  (A note about that leather purse.  It is the first leather purse I’ve ever owned.  My mom thought it was hilarious that I kept sniffing it after I bought it.  Every time I walk into the room where I left it, I can smell it.  I like that smell.)

Then we wandered around looking at everything else.  I fouWall Drug Phrmacynd the actual pharmacy among the shops.  The giant plastic skeleton hanging in the window was funny, but it’s a real apothecary, complete with a pharmacist on duty.  Wall Drug’s initial purpose was to provide a drug store for that area of the country.  When the owners realized no one had money to spend in that area of the country, they then became a “travel stop” for people heading west during the Great Depression.  My mother traveled the area when she was a child, and she remembers Wall Drug’s “free ice water.”  She said it was a place to look forward to after traveling for hours, or days, on a trip.  I’m sure her memories are different than mine.  I know when I had talked to a coworker (who just moved to Boulder from Spearfish, South Dakota) about going to Wall Drug, he thought I was crazy for driving an extra 50 miles just to go there.  He grew up there, he thought it was hokey.  And it is hokey.  But it’s also part of my memories, so it was important for me to visit it again.  How could I be so close to it, and not visit it again?  In fact, if we’d had an extra day, we’d have probably gone a little further and seen the Badlands, as well, something I also have strong memories of.

One of the best parts of this trip was being able to share memories again with my mom.  When you’re fourteen, you don’t understand how precious those memories can be later.  You’re young, life is still ahead of you, and this is just a blip in a long list of memories you will keep with you throughout life.  Now I’m older, and so is mom, so these trips become as much about making new memories as it is about honoring the old ones.  And even if some of those memories are kitschy, they are important.  I am so glad we got to take this trip.

What kitschy places have you visited that gave you good memories?  Leave your answers in the comments!

Free ice water!  Of course, the fountain was turned off because it was the off-season, so we had to pretend!

Me with free ice water$500 boots.  Yikes!

$499 cowboy bootsFox tails?  Coyote tails too!

fox tales for saleMom and I.  She’s holding back those plastic horses like a pro!  And me?  Holding down a bench, of course! Notice our Wall Drug shopping bag off to the right – all of our fancee souvenirs were in there!  Including my under $10 leather purse!

My mom wit the plastic horsesMe on a wooden bench

 

 

 

 

You can ask my mom – I have a thing about buffaloes.  I still have my stuffed buffalo I bought somewhere out west (probably Yellowstone) when I was 14.  This one is the real deal, although it’s not live anymore.

Stuffed buffalo at Wall Drug StoreThe plastic box made it hard to photograph, but it was a fine specimen of a young grizzly.

Stuffed bear at Wall Drug Store

Posted on October 12th, 2015 by Momilies  |  2 Comments »

The Solar Powered Rest Stop

My mom and I just got back from our annual vacation together.  This year, we headed north instead of south, to South Dakota.  This required a drive through Wyoming.  I’ve lived 45 minutes from Wyoming for the last four years, and have never managed to visit.

The high plains we drove through rolled on before us, with interesting rock outcroppings, bison ranches, and windmills to break up the monotony.  It is some beautiful countryside.  And what always strikes me about areas like this is how much energy could be harnessed from the sun or wind, yet we see only a few power-producing windmills, and virtually no solar capturing.  That seems so wasteful.

Once in Wyoming and past Cheyenne, we stopped at a small rest area.  All I could think about was using the bathroom, so wasn’t paying a lot of attention until I was sitting on the toilet looking up.  One wall of the room slanted at a 45-degree angle toward the ceiling, and was covered in metal panels on a cantilevered mechanism that told me they opened like shutters.  They were closed, but I could see light around the edges.  This intrigued me, so once I was back outside, I walked the perimeter of the building, looking for these giant shutters.

I didn’t find shutters, but I found a complete solar system in place on that same wall.  It turns out, the entire rest area is powered by solar.  There was the passive solar of the shutters, and a more active system of panels.  The solar power collected into batteries was being used to heat water, heat the buildings, and provide the power to lights and other electric needs in the building.  They even had a large panel displaying exactly how they were using solar to power everything the rest stop needed.

This part of Wyoming is virtually tree-less, and the long sunny days provide more solar than any small setup would ever need.  And in places like this, and places like where I live, solar should be the way to go.  Yet there are only a handful of places in town where solar is being used.  There is, I guess, no incentive to use solar, so it doesn’t happen.

I have long thought that there should be a requirement that all new construction, whether it is residential or commercial, contain solar energy collection methods.  There is no reason a big roof just needs to be shingles.  So much energy falls out of the sky, we should be taking advantage of it.

panel describing how solar is being used at a rest stop

Posted on October 4th, 2015 by Momilies  |  No Comments »

The Domestics

Mom is visiting, so I know it is autumn.  This is our time to be domestic as a mother and daughter.  Sometimes it is crochet and knitting.  Sometimes it is some sewing project or other.  This year, it’s linens and jams.

Canner with jars in boilLast weekend, we canned.  There were tomatoes and pickled beets, and then there were jars and jars of strawberry jam and peach jam.  She brought a pressure canner with her, and I set up an outdoor burner to use it, since my glass-top electric stove would never handle such a thing.  And while the pickled beets and tomatoes hissed in the pressure cooker outside, my water bath canner handled all the jams.  We ended up with a dozen or so pints of tomatoes, and about the same of pickled beets.  I ended up canning 29 half-pints of strawberry jam, and two dozen half-pints of peach jam.  That doesn’t count the jars I left unsealed in the fridge for immediate consumption.  It was a good year for fruit jams. I haven’t made jelly or jam for many years.  Maybe 30 years.  Last year mom and I made champagne grape jelly, which was just amazing.  And this year, I jumped in with both feet and peeled peaches until I was sticky from head to toe, and mashed strawberries with a hamburger flipper until my kitchen looked like I’d murdered someone.  I regret nothing!

Peach jam, and strawberry jamforming the curls on a doily with pill bottlesWe get so domestic when we are together.  I don’t remember us behaving this way when I was younger, but perhaps we did.  Mom has always done crafts of one sort or another – sewing, crochet, for a while she did some cake decorating.  Mom has an artistic spirit – she painted, fiddled with jewelry making, and many other things.  I learned to sew from her and my grandmother, and I did quite a bit of sewing when I was a teen.  I did other crafts that caught my fancy along the way.  I even quilted at some point, although I don’t do much of it now.  So when we get together each year, along with planning a short trip, and heading up into the mountains or trolling through the second-hand stores, we cook things, or make things.  This year, it is the canning, and mom has been playing around starching my doilies that I am too lazy to starch.  She used every bit of my cornstarch to make old-fashioned starch to starch antique pillowcases she’d brought to give me, and used every pill bottle and even my Grumpy Cat squeeze ball to form the ruffles in an especially pretty green and white doily.

Starched pillow cases on the linePotatoes fresh out of the groundRotten hayAnd we work in the garden.  There is harvesting to be done, and garden space to clean out for winter, and new gardens to either create or old gardens to maintain.  This week, we went to my big plot at the community garden, and harvested almost everything.  There were potatoes, and beans, and my one giant pumpkin (turns out it was 21 pounds of pumpkin!).  My future son-in-law, Robert, took a Sunday afternoon to build me a new raised bed, to expand my current vegetable gardening space.  I managed to find some rotten straw to get it started.  Mom and I will go get some rabbit poop in a week or two, to give it another layer to work in over the winter.  She knows gardening, and I depend on her expertise.  And I depend on my own physical strength to get the bed in place, get the hay and manure spread out, to get the grunt work done. We are a good team.

We are also tired.  So we’re going to take another little trip, as we do every year.  Last year we headed to southern Colorado and visited the Great Sand Dunes, Bishop Castle, Lake Isabel, and the Florissant Fossil Beds.  This year, we’re going north – to South Dakota.  We’re going to revisit some memories there.  As a child/young teen, we visited the area around the Black Hills.  I remember Mt. Rushmore, a horseback ride on a trail up in the hills, and a visit to a strange place, Wall Drug.  We’re going to take a drive through Spearfish Canyon and see the water falls, and spend some time on the Needles Highway.  There won’t be a horseback ride, but we’ll visit Wall Drug, and Mt. Rushmore.  A few days away is just what I need, and these times with my mom are precious because I don’t know how long they will last.  I look forward to these little trips, and I’m very blessed that I can afford to do them.

Posted on September 27th, 2015 by Momilies  |  No Comments »

Kale

Oh, Kale.  You are so pretty!  You look great whether the weather is hot or cool, and your curly leaves look like they are waiting for dressing, or butter, or bacon grease.  You are so yummy!  You are so good for me! And you grew so great this year, I’m still eating you!

No one else in my house likes kale.  But that’s okay.  I’m happy to eat it all by myself.  Lately, I’ve been making a huge batch of it on Sundays, and eat it for breakfast throughout the week.  Kale for breakfast?  You bet!  Extremely nutritious, substantial, and full of good taste.  Why not?  Here’s my favorite way to cook it.  For breakfast, I put some in a bowl and heat it up, then scramble up a couple of eggs to toss on the top.  So delicious!

Basic Kale

Ingredients:

8 cups fresh kale, spines removed, torn into 3 to 4 inch pieces

1/4 cup bacon, cut into small pieces

hot water (if your tap water is hot, not warm, use boiling water

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Directions:

Brown bacon in a large pot (I use a dutch oven) until crisp.  Do not drain.  Add in kale and allow to sautee for a minute or two.  Add hot water slowly while mashing the kale into the water as it wilts.  You don’t want too much water – just enough to barely get it all wet.  Add light salt and pepper.  Remember that the bacon has salt in it so you may not need as much salt as you would think.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until kale is reduced and tender.  Young kale needs less cooking, older (tougher) kale needs more cooking.  Taste and add salt if needed.

Keeps for one week in the fridge.  Reheats well in the microwave.

 

Posted on September 20th, 2015 by Momilies  |  1 Comment »

The Gardener’s Promise: There’s Always Next Year

It is getting to be time to wrap another gardening season here along the Front Range in Colorado.  The nights are dipping into the 40s, even though we are still seeing days well into the 80s.  Production in the garden has dropped off considerably.  I’m on my third round of bean plants, the second round having finally stopped producing.  I was probably pushing it to put in another batch of seed in late August, but I hope to get more beans before the first frost in early October.  I may not make it, but I can always hope.

As I look through this past growing season, I take away a few lessons and start to make plans for next year.  After three good years of seeing how things grow in Colorado, I have a sense for where I am wasting my time, and where I should invest my efforts.  When it’s a bad year, or a nonproductive year, or things we were counting on didn’t do well after all, we like to say, “There’s always next year.”

Some clear decisions have already been made:  I am giving up the big community garden patch I’ve had for the last three years.  This year was the worst for that patch for me.  The pests were awful – I lost most of my squash and pumpkin plants to borer.  My kale refused to grow until July, and then only when I’d over-seeded four times to do so.  I got one pot of peas out of the whole 20-foot row I planted.  The beets looked good, and the beans, when they finally started, produced well.  But beans are kind of foolproof.  I do have a basket set up for growing potatoes, but it is too early to dig them up, so I don’t know how they did.  I’m not hopeful about them either, as the plants are huge, almost grotesquely so, which means all the energy went into the plants, and not the potatoes.  We’ll see.  Last year that garden was crammed full, so full you could barely walk in there.  This year?  I could have a family over for a picnic lunch, and none of the plants would get stepped on.  I’ve had to pull up squash after squash plant.

What do I think is wrong?  Well, for one, the area is low, and next to the Oligarchy Ditch, a major water provider canal through town.  The ground is cold, even in the middle of summer.  At night, when the rest of town has a 60-degree low, that area has a 50-degree low.  There are the pests that keep being shared around – potato beetles, flea beetles, squash bugs, squash borers, squirrels, voles, mice, and other pests.  I had a couple of good years, but this year, I seemed to get all of the pests.  Squirrels decimated half my corn crop. A bumper crop of wild morning glory and purslane has layered my plot for the entire summer, despite the hours I’ve spent weeding.

There were other things that went wrong – things out of my control in most ways.  There was a decision by the board for the garden to replace one of the main paths along my plot.  The construction was supposed to be finished in early April, but instead drug on through mid-May.  I couldn’t plant until Memorial Day.  My plot was unreachable, and I lost 18 inches of ground on the east side of the plot – the ground that was the most stable and productive.  And there are the social problems involved with shared space – mostly petty politics and plenty of egos that can’t seem to keep themselves in check.  I’ve been scolded for taking on various projects for my 10 hours of workshare – most notably I was told never to prune the grapevines again because I “didn’t know what I was doing.” Last year, my pruning of the grapevines brought in a bumper crop of grapes, something they hadn’t seen for years.  But I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was also told not to work in the perennial shade garden because, again, I “didn’t know what I was doing.”  The board wasn’t happy unless all we peons were getting our workshare hours in weeding common paths and dragging the dumpsters across the street for pickup days. I’ve pretty much had enough of that nonsense.  It’s not worth it to stay there, when it doesn’t bring me joy.  Add in the poor production, and I have lost my will to do the work involved in keeping that plot going.

Besides, right now, I have great garden space where we are renting.  There was already a good garden bed along the south side of the house, and last fall I added a 16 x 3 foot raised bed along the fence.  Between these two beds, I’ve gotten a bumper crop of tomatoes, beans, squash, and eggplant, and more kohlrabi than I could eat.  When they needed to be watered, I could set up the sprinklers to run while I was fixing dinner or doing laundry or working on my novel.  Weeding took ten minutes a week.  I could pick fresh veggies for dinner just by walking out the door.  No gathering tools and driving over to the big garden to spend an hour or more doing everything at once.  This fall I am adding another raised bed.  There is room for a nice-sized one (about 5 foot by 12 foot) in the driveway, where there is nothing but mulch and the flattened stump of a buckeye tree.  It is south/west facing and gets good hot sun.  It’s perfect.  With that additional space, I should be able to go gangbusters next summer.

What grew well this year at home:  eggplant.  I planted two, and both reached a height of more than three feet.  THREE FEET.  I’ve never seen eggplant get so big.  I harvested nearly daily.  We were eating eggplant twice a week, and I made a huge batch of baba ganoush for the freezer.  It’s going to be mighty tasty come winter.  I also have some of the biggest beefsteak tomatoes I’ve ever grown, even compared to my river dirt back in St. Louis.  Every tomato is bigger than my fist.  I picked four or five a day, every day, once August came.  I’ve canned several pints of them – their meaty nature makes them great for canning.  I had great lettuce early in the season, and have replanted for fall.  The one zucchini plant was a good producer, and I had one “surprise” pumpkin that grew on its own from seed that was in the compost that I used to fill that bed.  I got a good harvest of cucumbers before they got mold and I had to pull them.  I also have gotten my herb bed up and running, using one square of the garden alongside the house.  There are perennials – thyme, oregano, chives.  I let the parsley reseed.  Yes, it’s messy, but I have all the herbs I want.  I planted basil this year, and harvested enough a month ago to dry and fill two pint jars.  There is more to be harvested, and I’ll probably grab those once we have an upcoming frost.  Same for the parsley.

So this fall will be busy.  First, I’ll be getting all of my things out of the community garden – the fences, stakes, hoses, sprinklers, etc., and getting them home.  Second, I need to get that raised bed built.  My future son-in-law will be helping me with that.  I’ve already picked up 7 bales of rotten hay that will the base for that garden.  I’m also negotiating for the delivery of some rabbit manure.  I intend to add edging to the garden alongside the house, then fill with a nice layer of hay and rabbit manure to build it up and rehab that space.  The raised bed from last year has composted well, which means it needs another 8 inches of soil to fill it up.  I’ll use hay and rabbit manure for that too.  And then there is the new raised bed – it will get a layer of leaves and seed pods from our locust trees, then hay, and rabbit poop.  We will toss compost in there all winter as well.  I’ll probably still have to buy some soil – I did this year – but at least everything will have a good start.

For next year, I’m going to continue to work on “growing up.”  When you run out of flat space, you start growing up.  This  can increase productive space.  I have some fencing to use to run up the cucumbers (this will prevent the mold, too), some winter squash (delicata and butternut), and of course pole beans.  I’ll plant the summer squash on the ends of the raised beds, so they can grow outwardly and pile on the ground if they need to.  As long as the base of the squash is stable, the rest of it can grow outside the bed, giving me more space in the center of the bed for bush beans, eggplant, lettuces, kohlrabi, kale, etc.

It’s going to be awesome.  That’s how we gardeners look at it – there is always next year.  And next year is going to be better than ever!

Posted on September 13th, 2015 by Momilies  |  1 Comment »

A Week of Memories

Not sure what it was about this week, but I seemed to bump into memories at every turn.  I was overly stressed at work (that will pick up again on Tuesday after the holiday), and sleeping but dreaming vividly, which means I’ve not had good rest.  And some of the memories made me a little weepy.  Not that they were sad or anything, but they made connections in my mind to different times, and different people that had been in my life over the years.

Of course, as I’ve passed the halfway point of my life, memories pop up regularly anyway.  I will see something, someone will say something, and off my mind goes, remembering something or other.  It started on Sunday, when my calendar reminded me of a dear friend’s birthday.  She’s been gone from this plane for more than 6 years, and I still miss her terribly.  Her “symbol” was the dragon-fly, and on Sunday evening, a very persistent dragon-fly was buzzing around me as I did yard work.  How could I not think of her on that day?

On Tuesday, I was contacted by a former student, out of the blue.  I hadn’t thought about or talked to this student in more than 10 years.  It was great to hear from her.  She is working an important job, something I never knew she was interested in.  I only know the shy little girl she was when I knew her.  All of my former students have a special place in my heart.  They are sort of my children, too.  I love to hear about their successes and achievements.  It makes me feel proud.  I always hope I had some sort of a positive influence on them and their growing into the people they are today.  To hear back from them and know that they are succeeding is reinforcement of that.

And yesterday in the paper was an opinion piece about finding a substitute for an expensive fix.  Of course, I’m always looking for the cheap way out, so the piece resonated with me.  The guy was talking about buying cord to fix some item or other that had broken, finding that cord purchased in the windows/blinds department at the big box hardware store was three times as expensive as finding the same cord to be purchased by the foot in a different part of the store.  It had me recalling a fix I’d done to my first washing machine.  I’d purchased an ancient Maytag at a yard sale for $35.  At some point, the belt that drove the tub snapped.  After all, the washer was a 1942 model.  Things are bound to go wrong, right?  I walked to the appliance repair place around the corner, and the helpful salesman offered me a new belt.  For $100.  Plus tax.  I took the broken belt next door to the auto parts store, and the helpful salesman there found a belt of the right size, which I purchased for under $10. This happened 30 years ago.

Thirty!  How did I get so old?

Today, I’m going back to my roots, which will include more memories.  I’m canning tomatoes and jelly.  Not canning peaches, although in my childhood, we canned a lot of peaches.  We also canned tomatoes, green beans, and made pickles.  I won’t be going that far – I find I like frozen green beans better, and I don’t have time to brine for pickles.  Maybe next year.  Or not.

But all the same, the memories will be flowing!

Posted on September 6th, 2015 by Momilies  |  No Comments »

Raspberry Syrup

Oh, summer.  You’re such a tease!  All the fresh fruit, the fresh veggies.  I want to eat them all, right at once.  Which of course is silly, but soooooo tempting.  So I have to make sure I’m not just eating some of the wonderful things, but putting some of the wonderful things away for the winter months, when the “fresh” fruits and veggies don’t really taste all that great.  Last week I shared with you my peach jam and peach cobbler.  This week, I thought I’d talk about Raspberry Syrup.  It’s easier than you think to do!  And in January, when you’re fixing waffles on a snowy Sunday morning, you’ll have a wonderful taste of summer to drizzle on top.

(Sorry for the terrible pictures, the kitchen was pretty hot and my camera was having trouble focusing)

This is an easy recipe, but does take some watching, so do this when you have time to hang out in the kitchen.  I suggest a decent novel, or maybe working on several cooking projects at once.  When you cook this, you don’t want to walk away.  Watch for raspberries to go on sale, and then buy a bunch.  They regularly go on sale here for $1 or less for a 6 oz. carton.  Pick cartons that are stuffed, so you get the most for you buck.  8 6 oz. containers will make about a quart of syrup, give or take.  I usually preserve it in 4-oz. containers, because it will turn to sugar if open too long after you open the jars.  A 4 oz. container is enough for my family to have on waffles for one meal, with only a little leftover.  I sometimes use the leftover syrup on a bowl of oatmeal, or mixed in with a couple tablespoons of cream cheese on a bagel.  Yummo!

A Definition: syrup is different than a jam.  Usually there is less sugar, and the goal is a clear slightly-thickened juice, not a jelly.  But like making jelly or jam, you need a big pot, a big spoon, and some patience.

Raspberries in the pot for cooking syrupSo, dig out that big pot.  It needs to be deep, because this will boil up and make a mess if you have a pot that is too small.  And there’s nothing messier to clean up than boiled/burned sugar on your stovetop!  Pick any leaves or debris out of the raspberries and toss them in the pot.  Do NOT wash them.  They are clean enough for this, and washing raspberries makes them absorb liquid and deteriorate.  You want all that flavor in your syrup!  Add about a cup of white sugar, and about a cup and a half of water.  Turn the burner on and bring to a boil.  You can use a lid to speed the boil process, but once it reaches a boil, you want to remove the lid, and start stirring every once in a while.  You’ll also want to turn the heat down to about medium.

Raspberry syrup cookingAllow this to cook for at about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  The goal is to cook this down by half.  You will need to stir more the longer it cooks, to keep it from sticking.  You will know it is pretty much ready when it is sticking even with the stirring.  At that point, get it off the heat and let it cool for ten or fifteen minutes, so it is easier to handle.  Hot sugary things can burn you in nothing flat. The foam you see on the picture to the left?  That was mostly gone by the time the syrup was fully cooked.  It will get strained out when you move to the next step, however, so don’t fret over it too much.

Straining the raspberry syrup to remove the pulp.Now you have two ways to go with this.  You can strain the raspberry mixture through a strainer to remove the seeds and pulp, or you can tie cheesecloth over a bowl and pour in the raspberry mixture, letting it sit overnight to strain all the way through.  With a strainer, the juice will be a little cloudier, which I don’t think is a problem, but some people want their syrup clear.  This is your choice.  Raspberry syrup ready to can!

To preserve, you can freeze in small jars, or fill 4 oz. jars with syrup, leaving about a half inch of head space, and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (low altitude) or 15 minutes (high altitude).  Store in a cool, dry place until use.

Enjoy on those waffles, pancakes, biscuits, fresh bread, etc. come winter.  I promise it will make you smile!

(Some may note that I am putting my syrup in quart jars.  This is because mine goes into the freezer when I make it, to be canned later when the temps are cooler and therefore canning in the kitchen isn’t an awful proposition.)

 

 

Posted on August 29th, 2015 by Momilies  |  No Comments »