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10/3/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

We've been living and breathing apples and pears at our house. It started out with the apples. In the morning we canned a batch of applesauce and cleaned up the mess; in the evening, we filled the nine shelves of our Excalibur dehydrator full of yellow delicious apple slices and cleaned up the mess. The following morning we retrieved and bagged the dried apples and started all over again. We are not complaining, but for a while, there didn't seem to be an end in sight. 

peeling apples 

Larry ran the apple peeler/slicer/corer. What a nifty timesaving apparatus!

sliced for canning

Our golden delicious apples had spots that mostly came off with the peels. My job was to check to make sure, slice through the middle, and add them to the pineapple/water mixture. They made excellent dried apples.

dehydrator

We love our Excalibur nine-drawer dehydrator.

finished product

We also canned many pints of applesauce.

peelings and cores

It is even exciting to have the leftovers for our compost pile!

pears everywhere!

Then the pears began to ripen. We had picked them all and brought them home. All 261 of them! We laid them out on our long table and checked each day for ripe ones.

sliced pears

Better than store bought! We grew both Bartlett and Starking Delicious Pears. They are so tasty and we can’t tell the difference by the flavor.

dried fruit

Oh, my goodness! Have you ever tasted dried pears? They are even better than dried apples. We felt like we were popping french fries in our mouths, only these were good for us!

finished product

Then the pears began ripening so quickly, we canned them in pint jars.

in the slow cooker

Two more new "firsts" for us was making apple butter and pear butter. Oh, how the mouthwatering aroma filled our house! We live in an amazing time when you can learn to do most anything on the web, and I found that letting the butter cook down in the slow cooker for about four hours was so much easier than watching it on the stove. In the above photo, notice the two knives holding the lid up to let the moisture out. I would never have thought of that!

Larry is such a good helper, running the peeler/corer/slicer for me and stirring and lifting whenever I tire. (Remember, I had back surgery in June.) Lately, he has started filling the jars while I wipe them clean and put on the flats and rims. I have more and more respect for my mother who did most of her work alone. Larry and I talked about his mom also, and wondered how on earth the women of the past did all their work. I feel sadness for Mom and would like to bring her back and tell her I understand and appreciate how hard she worked. We are so thankful we have each other. Larry is retired, and we enjoy working together. We’ll also be enjoying the “fruit” of our labor all year.



9/12/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

We live where we have four distinct seasons, and my favorite one is here. Yes, fall, with all it holds, has arrived! Some have told me that this time of year makes them sad when everything dies, reminding them of approaching winter. But, how can one feel sad living in Omaha with rolling hills of beautiful multicolored trees, lovely landscaped yards with bright yellow mums and brilliant red burning bushes? Front porches and around doors are filled with straw bales, cornstalks, and pumpkins. Who doesn't feel like a child again when taking their daily walk in fallen leaves? And the aroma! Um! Away with those hot humid days, and if a day is dreary or chilly, we light our wood-burning fireplace and bring out cinnamon and spice scented candles. Soon, there will be happy children trick or treating, and then, Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday! Could it get any better?

Well, it did get better when we bought our little farm with all its unique beauty and added peace. It got even more so this past weekend when we both noticed an extra special feeling of joy. We were picking pears from our two pear trees and remarking over and over again, “Look at all these pears!" What a wholesome job!

Pear trees

Pear trees: On the left is a Starking Delicious and on the right, a partial photo of a Bartlett. Their taste is almost identical.

Mary and pear tree

I got to pick from the center, and Larry picked the high and low pears. Sometimes, I just held the bag and exclaimed, “Can you believe all these pears?!”

Yes, on our little farm, it is harvest time. A reward for our labors. Larry dug all of the potatoes, and laid them out to cure on the basement floor. We also picked apples from three trees. Our various dwarf trees are ready for picking starting in late August and ending in early November, and they have done quite well this year. I have frozen chopped apples already from those that had fallen, but now we will be canning many jars of applesauce, and running our dehydrator day and night for a while.

IMG_4066

Digging potatoes is getting difficult for Larry, and I couldn’t even be of help by picking them up.

IMG_4006

We weren’t able to thin the apples in the spring and the branches were really weighted down. They literally rose as we picked the apples off, and I think I heard them breathe relief! I couldn’t help but think of the last stages of pregnancy!

My special job, lately, has been picking raspberries. We had thought them a failure when they produced only a few small berries, but they are abundant and larger this year with cane after cane full of berries in various stages. We have kept them in neat rows and held up between wires, so it has been easy for me and a blessing to pick two or three cups each evening with no end in sight. I imagine they'll continue to ripen as long as the weather permits. I mostly freeze them in small quantities to pop in our fruit smoothies, but I have also made muffins, and another “first” for me – raspberry jam!

Pan of raspberries

We had to go to Omaha for a few days, and when we came back, the bugs had left me eight cups of raspberries!

Remember, when we bought the farm, how each trip out we filled Larry's blue truck, actually our old 1998 blue Honda Accord, to the ceiling with supplies? Yes, even fence posts and wire! Well, how fun to reverse the load, and go home filled with our harvest! A trunk loaded with bags of apples and pears, and our cooler with frozen blackberries and raspberries! We had already taken the frozen strawberries and rhubarb home, and next time, we should have enough room for the potatoes and frozen green beans and sweet corn. Life is good! And fall? Well, it is absolutely my most favorite season of the year!



9/2/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Since my back surgery, I've had a lot of time to read, and in a recent book, there was mention of a hope chest. That quickly got my attention, because I actually had one. It started when my grandmother came from California to visit us when I was quite young, and gave me an item she had been working on. It was a covering for a throw pillow made out of scraps with intricate embroidered stitching around each piece. Mom suggested I put it in the trunk and start a hope chest.

trunk

I took this photo at my friend Roxy Lang’s house. My trunk wasn’t quite this fancy.

The dictionary describes a hope chest as a chest containing household linen and clothing stored by a woman in preparation for her marriage. It evidently was an-old fashioned custom even when I was a teenager, as I needed to explain it to my friends whenever one visited and saw the trunk in my room.

front of chicken house

The front of the throw pillow cover.

Back of pillow

The back was made from neckties. Everything was hand stitched by my elderly grandmother.

In all 54 years of marriage, I've never used that pillow covering. It is displayed in my antique china cabinet, and on occasion, usually when cleaning the inside of the cabinet, I take it out and sit for a while admiring the different stitching. I doubt that is what Grandma had in mind when she made it.

Back to the hope chest. It filled up over the years as I added something now and then. One item that I was really proud of was my first crocheted doily. I made it while recovering from an illness. Mom had me downstairs in their bed and would come in and check after I finished each row, and then show me the pattern for the next row. The lesson I soon learned from her, besides crocheting, is that if you made a mistake, you ripped it out and did it again! 

doily

My first attempt crocheting a doily.

I guess you could say that the hope chest worked, as I have a wonderful husband. One far better than I could have ever hoped for!

It would be fun to hear from any of you who also had a hope chest. Leave a note telling us about it, as I'm sure other readers would love to hear your story, as well.



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!





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