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8/26/2014

Mary ConleyNow why would any elderly woman want her blog called "Old Dog, New Tricks? Well, I'm not sure I'm fond of that name, but I am happy with how it came about. When we started changing the way we did things in our city yard, and then bought our little farm, I was constantly learning and doing new things. I was daily searching the web and reading the gardening and country magazines. It was amazing how our lives changed, and it was so much fun! Larry and I weren't one of those old couples sitting across the table from one another with blank faces and nothing to talk about. Nope! We were really living and learning. So, when I couldn't come up with a name for my blog and enlisted help, my daughter, Amy, thought "Old Dog, New Tricks" was appropriate.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, my back surgery this spring almost put a stop to the learning and doing of "new" things. Almost! After each of the past several blog posts, I would tell Larry that I didn't have anything to write about, and it possibly might be my last. He got so he rolled his eyes and said, "How many times have I heard that?" This last time, though, I think he believed me. Then, yesterday, I remembered about the Swiss chard. Don't laugh! It was new to me this season, and I want to tell you about it.

Swiss chard

Swiss chard

In the spring, I wrote a post on "Planting for my Vitamix" and explained that I had planted Swiss chard for the first time. Its leaves are green with red veins and are quite similar to beet leaves only larger. I have an abundance and the bugs don't seem to bother it. I was disappointed, though, that I couldn't seem to find smoothy recipes that contained chard, and then I discovered I could throw a few torn leaves into any of my regular fruit smoothies without noticing a difference in the flavor. I love adding the extra nutrition from those fresh greens!

blanching Swiss chard

Blanching the Swiss chard.

I also read how to freeze chard for later use in casseroles and soups. My granddaughter, Katie, picked it for me as I still wasn't allowed to bend that far, and then we cleaned and blanched it in boiling water. If you've ever cooked fresh spinach and watched it practically disappear, you'll know what happened to the chard. After cooling it in ice water, we squeezed all the extra moisture out and packed it into rounds about the size of golf balls. The instructions said to make squares the size of a deck of cards, but I wasn't sure how much I wanted to use at once, and we decided I could always use two if needed.

freezing Swiss chard

We froze the balls individually, and then bagged them. How fun to learn something new, and with Katie!

Helpful hint: Did you know that when you pick and clean your lettuces, if you soak them about 10 minutes or so in water with a little vinegar, it will kill the germs, plus all the little critters turn loose? I think that is so freeing if you are like me and worry about whether you've cleaned them enough. And, there is no vinegar aftertaste. I also do that with the strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, and blackberries.

When Katie and I went to make kale chips, we discovered bug eggs on the back of the leaves. I wondered if the kale was still usable, so I soaked a couple in the water/vinegar solution and the eggs floated right off! It's a good thing to know, don't you think? We decided the kale was clean, and that we could eat it even though we had seen the eggs. Of course, we didn't tell the guys about it, and they thought the chips were great!

Happy harvesting!



8/12/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

At this point, you may want to stop and read an old blog of mine called Christmas at Mayo Clinic. It is about our oldest son, Perry, and this blog is also about him.

Perry is 51 and has never been married, but over the Christmas holidays, he met Kim on ChristianMingle.com and they have been happily dating ever since. She is a doctor of pharmacy at Walgreen's and lives fairly close to us. We think she is delightful, and I asked her recently where she has been all these years!

Perry told us one afternoon that there is an excellent list, composed by high school students, of 100 things to do on dates. He said there were still a couple of things on the list that he and Kim hadn't done together: They hadn't watched a sunrise or a sunset. I knew they were planning on visiting our farm the first part of August, so I quickly interjected that we see the most beautiful sunrises right out our sliding glass door nearly every morning. Perry was already one step ahead of me and said that he would like to come out and watch one with Kim and then propose to her!

During the weeks before they came to our farm, we had a few cool overcast days. What if the clouds covered the sunrise while they were here? But then, probably nothing can dampen new love! We would just have to wait and see.

Well, when they arrived it had rained a little the night before, it was sprinkling when we went to bed, BUT, all was right the next morning, and they watched the sunrise together.

Oh, and she said, "Yes!"

next day's sunrise

The sunrise the following morning; neither day was spectacular, but pretty.

re-enactment of the proposal

Re-enactment.

the ring

The ring.

downtown for lunch to celebrate

We went out to lunch to celebrate.

on the swing

Playing on the swing before they left.

We've been amazed at how Perry and Kim seem so right for each other, and it has been a delight to watch. Having the engagement take place on our little farm was also special. This ol' house is making memories!



8/8/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends!

It was a Friday evening, and we were more than excited while waiting for our two grandchildren to come. Katie, 18, just graduated from high school; and Caleb, 16, will be a junior this fall. How brave of them to take a 10-hour trip with our country home as their destination. They were a little late, and we were afraid that if they didn't arrive soon, they might get lost in the dark on these country roads and without cell-phone coverage. How relieved we were when in they drove with smiling faces!

The kids stayed five full days, and it was a lot of fun having young people around. Their parents have trained them to be industrious, and gave them instructions to help us. Caleb loves to work with wood, so he was a great help as he and his grandpa built and repaired doors for the outbuildings.

repairing the barn's loft doors

The first thing they did was to repair one of the loft doors that had fallen off the barn. Later, Katie painted it and got the primer on the other one. We've been wanting to do that since we painted the barn last fall, and now it won't take Larry long to finish.

finsihed Dutch doors!

Then the guys built these dutch doors for the front of the barn. Didn't they do a great job?! They are just what I wished for. The doctor told me I couldn't paint the barn, but he didn't say anything about the barn doors, so I plan to slowly work on them. Shh! Don't scold!

recycled sliding doors

Remember the old granary that we tore down? We had salvaged a lot of the wood to fix up the barn, and especially the old chicken house. It continues to serve us as we saved the large, sliding doors. The guys cut about two inches off the bottom, which was the rotten part, and they fit perfectly on the above building that we call the loft. We've been wanting to do these things for a long time, so we are really feeling happy about it.

Katie painting

Katie helped me as I needed her, but she also primed and painted much of the loft. I felt bad that she worked alone while the guys had each other, but she listened to books on her CD player and didn't mind.

Katie and Caleb

The five days went far too quickly for Larry & me! We won't forget the great time we had working, playing games, telling jokes and bonding. It rained a little during the night before they left, so we led them safely out onto the highway, and then we went on into town. When we came back to the farmhouse a couple hours later, I felt the emptiness and heard my mother's words, "It is so quiet after you leave."

It wasn't quiet for long, though, as our oldest son, Perry, and his new love arrived that very evening! I will tell you about them in our next blog, and I can hardly wait!



8/5/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

We decided to bring our ice cream freezer with us to the farm and invite people over. It seems we have always been too busy or too tired to socialize much, but this past winter, we did some painting and decorating, which was an added incentive. Planning a get-together may be easy for city dwellers, but country folks always have something urgent at the time, such as wheat harvest for our neighbors and sweet-corn time for us. I was determined, though, so I did my inviting at the last minute hoping it would work out. People came at different times and stayed around and chatted. We called it a success and did it again with another family the following week when two of our grandchildren were visiting.

a well-used ice cream maker 

Our ice cream freezer is getting old and we've been saying that it is probably going to quit on us one of these days. Of course, we only use it when company is coming so that will be a last minute disappointment if it happens.

recipes for the best homemade ice cream

My recipe cards for ice cream and hot fudge sauce are also ancient, dirty, and barely legible. I noticed the date on one is 6/82, so our family has been eating this ice cream and fudge sauce for 32 years! They also have the name of the sweet friend who gave them to me.

These recipes may not be the best for everyone, but our family loves them. Our son, Jason, can't seem to eat enough. I don't know where he puts it! A bonus is that it is not made of heavy cream, but still delicious. I'm going to share the recipes so you can give them a try if you wish.

Homemade Ice Cream

9 eggs
3 cups sugar
1 large and 1 small can Carnation milk
3 quarts whole milk
2 boxes of Junket powder ice cream freezer mix
1 teaspoon vanilla

I made this recipe raw for years, but now I cook it to be safe, requiring it to be made ahead of time so it can thoroughly cool before putting it into the freezer. You can easily convert your recipe, too. I cook the eggs, sugar, and a large portion of the milk (what will fit in my large mixer bowl) in the microwave until it reaches 160 to 165 F. Be sure to stir often. If you don't have a probe or thermometer, do the metal spoon test: Put a couple metal spoons in the freezer. The custard is the proper consistency when it lightly coats a metal spoon, and your finger leaves a path when drawn across the back of the coated spoon. When it is the proper temperature, thoroughly mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large container and cool. My job is then finished, and Larry freezes the ice cream shortly before our company arrives.

NOTE: You can usually find the Junket Mix on the top shelf just above the gelatin. Walmart does not carry it.

Hot Fudge Sauce

(Even if you have your own favorite ice cream recipe, you'll want to give this hot fudge sauce a try.)

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together the butter, cocoa, flour, and sugar, adding a little milk at a time. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly and starts to thicken. (It will thicken more as it cools.) Add vanilla.

I hope you enjoy our family recipes. Invite some people over and have some fun!



7/29/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

There is always something out there that we don't know about, and now I'm going to tell you one of those probably useless pieces of information: Did you know that gravel roads are full of nails and other objects that can puncture your tires? We had been to our farm numerous weekends and never gotten a flat tire. However, in the almost three years that our son and family lived here, they got over 50. FIFTY! Todd bought a special tire kit and fixed them himself. He once showed us a spike he pulled out! He thought it happened mostly after the road grader had passed and dug up all the junk that had fallen off the trucks, etc.

I like to fix problems so here is my solution: I think the road graders should drag a heavy magnet across the back that would pick up all the metal immediately!  Sure would save everyone a lot of time and money.

our country road

This is OUR dirt road. We don't understand why we like it. We just do!

Now, getting to country people. If you've become disheartened about the human race in general, you should come out to visit us and meet some of these nice country people who are always ready to give a helping hand. We've experienced it before, but I want to tell you about our latest since it is a flat tire adventure!

changing tire

We were off the dirt road and on the highway going to town, when we heard the telltale sounds. Larry pulled off and put on that little spare from the trunk. It had been in there since we bought the car (16 years) so it was not a huge surprise when it was also low on air. Two kind men stopped and used their tiny compressor gadget to blow it up, but alas, it had pulled away from the rim. Then they gave us a ride into town, dropped me off at Subway, and dropped Larry and the tire off at a tire store.

I was at Subway for a long time before Larry came walking in. After eating, he called about the tire and discovered it couldn't be fixed. Leaving out a lot of details, the manager noticed us talking about our problem, and inquired if we needed help. Larry walked back to the tire place and bought a used tire, the manager's fiancé picked him and the tire up, picked me up, and drove us to our car. What would we have done without them?!

Later, when we were in the grocery store, a man who worked there asked if we had gotten everything worked out. He had heard some of the conversation at Subway. He was very friendly and gave Larry a lot of information about where he could buy tires if needed.

When we were in bed that night, Larry and I named one person after another who had been kind and helpful to us during our dilemma and while running errands. It lifted our spirits and made our hearts feel good. Doesn't this story just make you want to smile at the next stranger you meet?!

Country roads? Not so good. Country people? The best!



7/21/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds.” Well, my back surgery was unplanned, so after leaving my kitchen garden at the farm a few weeks before surgery, I could only imagine how the weeds had taken over by three weeks after. I tried not to think about the hard work I had put into it; how I planted the green beans during a chilly drizzle one weekend because of a time pinch. I told Larry that our latest experiment would be to see what could survive without a gardener's help.

weeds 

Upon arrival, we passed what looked more like a bed of tall weeds rather than my garden. Sad.

Larry opened the wooden gate, and we waded through the weeds. Zucchini had survived! And maybe a puny cucumber plant might still make it if the weeds were pulled around it. What the bugs left of the spinach looked more like Swiss cheese, but we managed to salvage some for our Vitamix. Then there was the kale and chard I had planted for the first time. Such beautiful leaves! Exciting! A few beets could be found, and Larry asked me to use them to make a delicious chocolate beet cake. Four tomato and three green pepper plants were searching for sunlight, and, oh! There behind the tall weeds, the green beans were trying to climb up the fence. All was not lost, and I was thankful for every edible thing!

I felt sorry for Larry as the whole place desperately needed mowing again, but down in the field garden, there was good news: Sweet corn tassels were poking out above the red root, the potatoes were thriving, and the pumpkins and squash were alive and growing up the tall weeds! It was far better than we had anticipated.

EACH DAY

(My favorite poem by Harry Kemp)

Each day we die a little more;

Stale custom takes its toll:

It is the Unexpected Thing

That brings life to the soul.

Yes, the unexpected thing happened. It looks like we'll have most of our organic produce again this year, and I'm thinking I'll be strong enough to help with the canning and freezing. It may seem unnecessary work to some, but once you've tasted homegrown food, it is hard to stop.

I hope your garden is thriving under your tender loving watch. Be happy and thankful you can take care of it! Now to make some of those delicious kale chips!



7/17/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Around a year or two after we bought our little farm, I figured out how to write about it on a place called Yolasite, and eventually recorded the first four years on the site. Luckily, my photo app kept my photographs chronologically, and I was able to recall the events in order. Writing seemed to satisfy some creative need I had, but I did it mostly for a diary, and Larry and our son Todd were thrilled to have everything documented. As I wrote the short stories, I sent them to a few friends and, much to my surprise, had positive feedback. Our friends were interested in what we were doing, and told me they liked my style of writing.

Along with the farm, came an interest in reading most everything we could find about our new life. I'm not sure how I started receiving the Capper's Farmer newsletter by email, but I probably had seen it advertised on the Mother Earth News or GRIT site. One day I answered their request for a blogger, thinking I might have something to offer. Capper's Farmer was a new site and so it took a while after I was accepted to get started, but my first blog appeared on Sept. 5, 2013. My first embarrassing mistake was not knowing I needed to write fresh material, and luckily I wasn't the only one. The other problem was that I had to have so much help posting my blog, although I'm not sure that it was all my fault since the new site was still getting the kinks out. My editor, Sarah, was so sweet and patient with me, or I would have just quit. Later, Jean became my editor and sometimes I have to laugh at her little quirks – like she doesn't allow me to say pictures, but I need to say photos or photographs! OK, so she is right! Jean has several of us bloggers now, so she has her hands full.

Sometime in there, I discovered that a day or so after posting my blog on the Capper's Farmer page, Sarah posted it on Capper's Facebook page. You may want to go there and "like" the page up at the top, so you can receive all their wonderful posts.

I don't know how it happened so quickly, but this is my 50th blog post! I have said to Larry, more than once, something similar to, "My blog only got a few 'likes'" and sometimes I wonder if anyone reads them. He'll say, "Remember that you do it mostly for us." Well, I'll keep on blogging because it has gotten in my blood, but I know that I hope people read them! I imagine people out there reading them, and I often look up the name of someone who "liked" my blog on FB. I read their FB timeline to see which part of the country they are from and other things they share. I feel a little kinship to them. Also, some of us Capper's bloggers have come to know one another from reading each other's posts.

I hope, dear friends, that you enjoy reading my blog, and have possibly been entertained, learned something, or been encouraged along the way. Blessings to you and let's meet again on Blog Post No. 51!

on my iPad at the farm 





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