Tag Archives: Family

The Taste of Summer

Blackberries and heavy cream.  The taste of summer.

Blackberries and cream

There are many reasons that I own a Jersey milk cow, and this right here is one of them.  Seems a silly thing to feed and milk a cow twice daily for two tablespoons of heavy cream on a bowl of blackberries a couple times a year but you do what you have to do!

As a kid we picked gallons of blackberries.  Dad would head out to check the cattle and we would all pile in the truck with plastic buckets and pruning shears.  We would chop our way into the thicket of brambles along the pasture and pick for an hour or so.  Every. Night.  Mom made jam and froze the whole berries for winter. It was hot and murderously scratchy work – and our nightly reward was a bowl of berries with a bit of sugar.  If we were milking a cow we would go to the fridge, open the milk jar and scoop off a dollop of the heavy cream of the top.  So thick it folds into leathery pleats as the spoon skims the top, this cream is the food of the gods.

The Vintage Life!

Vintage is in…totally.  There are etsy shops, tag sales, Facebook pages, storefronts, museums, ..all dedicated to vintage wares and lifestyles.  You can hardly turn around without bumping into an instagram photo of a toddler in a wading pool taken yesterday but looking for all the world like circa 1974.   I get it – because I love the kitschy, whimsical, and fun bits and pieces of a life gone by!  But while it takes us back to a simpler time, remember there was no etsy, Facebook or instagram then!  Those orange floral dresses and bouffant hairdo’s were real life!  We lived it and wore it and worse yet, thought it was hip and tasteful!

On the farm we have lots of vintage stuff as well – the 1930s vintage Allis Chalmers tractor that belonged to my father-in-law, the 1960s vintage International B-414 tractor that belonged to my dad …. and the 1980s vintage Isuzu pickup with more than 300,000 miles on it that my husband loves and refuses to part with.  Now, the tractors have both been rebuilt and run well.  As for the Isuzu, well it runs, but not well.  The seat is sagging, the floorboards are leaky and when you turn on the heater/defroster the cab fills with an obnoxious blass of antifreezy air that promptly fogs up all the windows (which rather defeats the whole “defrost” function!)  I think that there must be a hole in the heater core.  All this makes rather entertaining driving during the winter.


Old stuff on farms is nothing new.  Years ago when we were making hay down in Lewis County at my mother’s farm my son had a friend come and spend a couple of days.  James and Trent were about 10 or 11 and thought they were in heaven.  Haymaking took several weeks so we moved the entire family down to the farm and the kids enjoyed long summer days playing while the men made hay and I cooked and drove tractor!  My mom still owned my father’s old pick up truck and we used it for pulling wagons and short trips into town for tractor parts and the like.  It was the quintessential farm truck – dented, smelly, even more beat up than the Isuzu. Someone had removed the bench seat and replace it with bucket seats – that were sort of attached to the frame of the truck but came adrift occasionally – just often enough to make turning corners a bit interesting!  The person sitting in the middle perched on a block of firewood with an old pillow on it.  In defense of the mechanic who made the change – he did leave the seatbelts in it!

James and Trent (who was probably sitting in the middle at the time!) and I made a run into town one day and as we were sitting at the stop sign (Toledo doesn’t have a stop light!) waiting to turn and head home Trent said, “Mrs. Fish, why does everyone here drive junky trucks?”  I looked around town and sure enough, there were more than a couple farm trucks parked along the street!  I explained that farm trucks work hard and don’t always get taken care of the best but they run just fine.  The contrast between vehicles on the farm and in the ‘burbs was pretty noticeable – even for a 10 year old – but because of the need to be thrifty every bit of use and life was squeezed out of vehicles and machinery!  And, when it didn’t run anymore chances were it got parked out back where it became part of the “strategic reserve” and stripped for parts.

This spring my mother had a stroke and had to leave the farm where she has lived since 1978.  We stopped making hay on the place about 10 years ago when it was divided up into five-acre parcels and sold for building lots.  Now, the neighbors still mow the old hay field with John Deere tractors – only they are lawn tractors instead.  Cleaning out Mom’s house was a bitter sweet experience.  So many lovely memories of summers in the shade of the huge oak trees, long hours spent exploring the woods and swimming in the river, the sweet smell of hay as you entered the barn to feed the cattle during the winter.  It was sort of like a bit of July during the cold, wet months of winter.  My middle son was especially sad about her leaving the farm and the apple trees that he loved to climb in and so we are going to get some scion wood from them in the spring and visit the Peninsula Fruit Club‘s spring grafting show!   We will plant the new apple trees in our orchard and perhaps our grandkids will get as much pleasure from them!

As I was packing up the bits and pieces of her life I thought a great deal about the current fascination with vintage items.  Since my mother embodied the adage “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without!” her entire life was vintage!  However, rather than being displayed on a shelf or being a “decorator accent” these items were used every day!  All her pyrex dishes and bowls were chipped and stained – not museum pieces but kitchen workhorses that served thousands of meals for her family.   There was precious little to send to thrift stores or garage sale.  It was all worn out!   I packed up a few boxes of keepsakes and precious mementos, but there was very little worth saving.  I kept her recipe books, a few dishes and heirlooms, and some linens.  In the bottom of the kitchen towel drawer I came across a few worn but serviceable items.  One homemade muslin dishtowel had a bric-a-brac trim sewed on by Mom years ago.  I brought it home along with a couple of others – and put them in my towel drawer – because these things were made to be used, not just displayed on a shelf.

Kitchen Towels3

Martha Stewart doesn’t live here

Shannon was gracious and outed us about farm decor.  In the interest of full disclosure, the inside of my house is tidier than my back porch.  Even if I do have a latex IV set-up hanging from the suncatcher over my kitchen sink.  (It needed to dry completely after it was last used!)  This was taken last year (the BBQ is gone!) and it is much tidier (sort of) now.  We built this house and I had the idea that we would enjoy the porch on warm summer evenings.

Instead we have to battle for space with boots, recycling and camping gear.  The garage where most of this will go hasn’t gotten built and so rather than clutter up the (unfinished) basement further it lives on the porch.  The little freezer on the porch has 200# of veal in it, and during the summer it is handy for chilling fryers.  There are two more freezers in the basement…along with the canning pantry.  The garbage can isn’t full of garbage – it just happens to be convenient to store the chicken feed in a garbage pan near the porch because the layers live in a coop not far from the porch.  And, unlike Martha Stewart’s architecturally designed coop at Turkey Hill, mine is covered with a blue tarp.  Did you honestly expect anything else?

Strawberry Jam and Euler Circuitry

The beginning of summer vacation certainly has been busy around here!  As my kids said goodbye to another year of school, I resumed classes for the summer session for college.  I am taking classes toward an Ag degree at Oregon State University.  Having been eleven years since completing an Associates degree, I have been pretty careful about the class-load and since Math is not a strong subject for me, I opted to make it my sole summer class.  Turns out, that was a wise choice.  Last week it was Euler and his formulas relating to circuits.  ((Gag))  This math class is a study of everyday math and I had already taken it once while studying in Hawaii.  Math is different in Hawaii, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.  Regardless, it didn’t transfer.

So, here’s me on my little farm running my clutch of little chicks on summer vacation to different activities wondering what in the world is “everyday” about Euler and his circuitry and graphs.  And then it dawned on me…perhaps I already know about Euler, but, I didn’t know that I knew!  Here’s where the farming comes into play…

A few weeks ago, Diane and I wrote about our daily lives living on a farm.  A lot of point A to point B and beyond.  And in order to get the maximum amount done, we have to be pretty efficient with our footsteps.  After all, we are pretty busy ladies. So, as I set out to do chores I think about what needs to happen to set my route.  Now, Euler was made famous for this when he solved a bridge problem (you should look it up, I can’t explain it very well) and companies who use an Euler circuit can save serious money!  So, if I use a  Euler circuit while doing farm chores, it will free up some time and energy to accomplish more important things, like Balsamic Vinegar Strawberry Jam!!!

And that leads me to the real point of my story.  It is finally strawberry time and we are on the cusp of raspberries, too!  Jams and jellies are a great way to explore food preservation and I would love to teach you how to do it!  Don’t worry, we won’t be discussing Euler’s circuitry.  My classes are FAR more interesting than that!  Plus, we will make a batch to share!  So, head on over to the WSU Kitsap Website and sign up for my class THIS Thursday!  This class will be from 10 am to 1 pm and is held at the Silverdale Community Center.  You will also notice that “Jammin” is a class from the Hip Homesteading summer series exploring everything from Jams, Pickles, Soap, Cheeses, Pressure Canning…there’s something for everyone!

If you are looking for local strawberries, Pheasant Fields Farm has them!  We spent an hour in her patch picking strawberries that she will sell at the Silverdale Farmers Market today!  These berries are the smaller more flavorful ones, perfect for a batch of delicious jam!

And as your going about your daily business, give Euler’s Theorum a thought…there just may be some time in your day to make some jam!

Kids Need This

My nephew recently spent some quality time on the farm with Aunt Diane thanks to the earthquake and tsumani.  He is a first grader – which in my opinion is the PERFECT age for a kid!  They are capable of putting on and taking off and putting on and taking off boots and shoes as many times a day as it takes.  They can put on their own seatbelt, and remind you when you forget yours.  They are big enough to pack a bucket of grain to the hogs, gather eggs, wrangle chickens, give farm tours, climb the hay stack, stomp in puddles and ride a bike!  As adults we get totally caught up in the things that we “need to do” and tend to forget that tasks like hunting for eggs laid in the raspberries by the “sneaky chicken” or pausing in a sunny spot on a dewy morning are opportunities to experience joy and to be relished.  It seems to me that no one relishes the day quite like a child – with a chicken!

A few days ago a friend came over to get a load of manure for his garden and brought his three boys along to “help”.  Knowing they were coming I saved up some of the chores and they fed the pigs and gathered eggs while dad loaded up the moo poo.   After some oohs and ahs over the number of red wiggler worms they got bored and my nephew took them on the  farm tour (complete with instructions on petting the cat and cautions about him being “scratchy when he acts like that!”)   Dad and I spent a few minutes chatting while they climbed all over our mechanical jungle gym (the bulldozer and tractors) and I noticed one of the boys had something in his hand.  It was a red wiggler worm, looking like it had seen better days.  He informed me he was taking it home to show his mom (she will be thrilled I’m sure!)   After washing off their boots (twice) and loading and reloading into the car a couple times they were ready to leave.  As he got in the car my friend looked around and said, “Kids need this.”

Reflecting on my experiences as a child filled with long hours of exploring the woods, swimming in the river, working on the farm, picking green beans and turning golden in the sun I know that while we were always financially strapped we lead a rich life and my childhood was a gift.  My husband also grew up on a farm and we agreed it was important to offer our kids the same gift. There are times when they are doing chores they don’t necessarily feel quite as blessed – yet.  But watching my nephew galloping around the farm for the last couple weeks I would agree with my friend, kids do need this!

Eggs for Easter

Or:  How come we have the “Easter Bunny” instead of the “Easter Chicken?”

Today the Kitsap Sun listed the local Easter Egg hunts. However, when you have free range chickens, every day is an egg hunt.  My nephew William loves to visit the farm and his main job (one he takes very seriously!) is gathering eggs.  At 7 years old it is still fun for him and it is a pleasant change from nagging the teenagers to do the task! He has even figured out where the sneaky hens hide their eggs and knows where to look to find them.  My hens lay a nice assortment of colors so he always has colored eggs to take home.  He is heading back to Japan next week now that the Navy has lifted the voluntary evacuation order and will miss the farm fresh ones!  We haven’t colored eggs for a number of years since the hens provide plenty but we still do hard-boiled eggs for Easter.  Just seems like the thing to do!

A few years back when the kiddos were still into egg hunt mode we loaded up and traveled to visit the cousins for Easter.  The adults and older teens hid the eggs all over the yard and the younger kids came out with baskets and we had a splendid time finding the hidden treasures.  After the “Big Hunt” was finished, we snagged about a dozen of the eggs to make the potato salad while the kiddos took the remaining ones and re-hid and re-found them a couple times.  At some point dinner was on the table and we went out to bring everyone inside for the meal and I realized that the kids weren’t the only ones participating in the egg hunt!   It didn’t take long for the 3 or 4 farm dogs who were hanging around the porch to figure out what was going on and to get into the spirit of things.  Every time the eggs were hidden, fewer and fewer of them were found!  By the time we had dinner ready the dogs had whittled the number of hard boiled eggs down from about six dozen to a handful!  For the rest of the afternoon they laid on the porch. bellies bulging with eggy indulgence.  According to my brother-in-law the odor on the front porch the next day from the doggy egg farts was “darned near toxic!”  At this point Shannon would say, “Cue banjo music!” but these are the things that memories are made of on the farm!

If you are going to be coloring eggs for a hunt this weekend, might we suggest a more natural approach!  From the crafty and creative gals over on “Old Fashioned Living

  1. Put raw, white-shelled, organically-raised eggs in a single layer in a pan. Cover with cold water.
  2. Add a little more than a teaspoon of white vinegar.
  3. Add the natural dyestuff for the color you want your eggs to be. (The more eggs you are dying at a time, the more dye you will need to use, and the more dye you use, the darker the color will be.)
  4. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Quickly check the eggs for color by removing them from the dye liquid with a slotted spoon.
  6. If the color is as desired, pour off the hot dye liquid and rinse the eggs immediately in cold water to stop the eggs from cooking. Continue to change the water until it stays cool in the pot because the eggs are no longer releasing heat. Drain and allow eggs to cool in the refrigerator.

If you wish a deeper color, strain the hot dye liquid into a container, then rinse the eggs immediately in cold water to stop them from cooking. Continue to change the water until it stays cool in the pot because the eggs are no longer releasing heat. Drain the last of the cold water, then cover the eggs with the strained dye liquid. Add more water if necessary so that the eggs are completely covered. Put into the refrigerator immediately and keep eggs in the refrigerator until the desired shade is achieved. Overnight is good. Longer than about twelve hours some of the colors just get muddier instead of deeper, and the lighter shades are more vibrant.

Try these foods to dye your eggs:

  • Red – Pink — lots of red onion skins, cranberry juice, or frozen raspberries.
  • Orange — Yellow onion skins
  • Brown — Red beet skins or grape juice (produces a beautiful sparkling tan), coffee.
  • Yellow — Saffron, tumeric or cumin, orange or lemon peels, or celery seed.
  • Green — spinach, or carrot tops and peels from Yellow Delicious apples for a yellow-green.
  • Blue — Red cabbage leaves make the most incredible robin’s-egg blue.
  • Deep Purple — Red wine makes a beautiful burgundy color

Tips for successful results:

  • Use filtered, distilled or soft well water. Chlorine and other chemicals will work against the dye, making it less intense. Buy distilled water or use your own filtered water.
  • For deeper colors, use more dyestuff or let the eggs soak longer.
  • For even coverage, cook eggs in a pot large enough to hold enough water and dyestuff to completely cover the eggs, even after some of the liquid has evaporated during the 15 minute of boiling.
  • Again, for even coverage, if you continue to soak the eggs in the refrigerator after cooking, make sure the eggs are completely covered with the dye liquid.
  • Blot the eggs dry or allow them to air dry, as for some colors the dye will rub off while still wet. On the other hand, if you wish to make a white pattern on the egg, you can rub off some of the dye for some colors immediately after cooking.
  • Make sure eggs of different colors are completely dry before piling them up in a bowl together, as wet dye from one egg can transfer to another.

Read more about natural dyes for Easter eggs at www.debraslist.com/food/aboutcoloringeggs.html.

Death and Taxes

As the saying goes, these are the only certainties in life.

Got the taxes done last week just in time for the deadline.  Though our accountant probably would prefer that they be done a month or so sooner.  I am really awful because there is so little incentive to sit down and enter a year’s worth of receipts from the business into Quickbooks.  I know, I know, if I only did it monthly it would be so much easier…but that is not how we do things around here!

As for death, well it came to our family this week as well.  My beloved Mother-in-Law died peacefully on Friday.  Tax day.  Now, if that isn’t a double case of life’s certainty, I don’t know what is!  Anna was an amazing woman.

The oldest of 10 children, by the time she was 14 years old she was taking a rifle, a box of canned food, a couple dogs and 10,000 sheep up into the Montana mountain meadows for the summer.   She was a pretty good shot too!  One time when my husband was about 12 year old there was a marauding coyote making regular visits to their farm.  She spotted it jogging a couple 100 feet away across the pasture, grabbed the rifle, leaned out the living room window and killed it with one shot.

A woman of great faith and charity, she was always looking for ways to serve.  When my family moved to the states from British Columbia in 1978 she showed up at our farm to welcome my parents.  She brought my parents a stack of magazines to get them connected to a new state and community.  Washington Farmer-Stockman, Hoard’s Dairyman, and the Drover’s Journal.  It was such a simple thing – and as a teen I was consumed with my own anxieties and worries – but now as an adult I can see how disrupting the move must have been for my parents.  They left everything they knew and embarked on a big adventure – and they were NOT the adventuresome types!

Anna was an amazing woman and will be really missed!  I feel blessed to have known her and as we cleaned out her room the other day I was given a bit of a treasure – her battered copy of “Betty Crocker” complete with extra recipes tucked in the front and back of the book!  Here is a picture of her taken on our wedding day 25 years ago.