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Mary ConleyDear friends,

A couple years ago, we took a wonderful trip to Ireland, and of course, we needed to kiss the Blarney Stone like everyone else even though it is a ridiculous moneymaking tradition. The grounds were beautiful, and we enjoyed our walk to the castle. Like others we’ve toured, it was missing its roof and it had just rained. Wouldn’t you think it would be roped off until the steps dried? No, and no one seemed to worry about that except me. Young and old climbed the slippery spiral staircase made of uneven, rough slabs of granite, while clinging to a large rope for a handrail. At least I was clinging. Every now and then we needed to turn loose of that rope and grab another. It was scary for me. I clutched my new iPad tightly so as not to drop it, with hopes of taking Larry’s picture as he kissed the stone.


Well, we finally made it to the top along with a lot of other people, and I got a good photograph of Larry. When it was my turn, I had to use mind control as I don’t like to lean over anything, let alone backwards. I also noticed that the two men who lowered me over were old. I couldn’t help but think it would be a fine time for one of them to have a heart attack! When they brought me back up, they said I could turn loose of the bar now and take their hands – more than once. I told my fingers to turn loose, but they just wouldn’t get the message. I thought someone was going to have to peel them off. All this while others were waiting their turn.

Then it was time to go down. I turned to the much younger couple behind me and apologized for being so slow. The nice lady said not to worry. She said that while coming up, she kept telling herself that if I could do it, so could she!

I hadn’t realized how much the climbing and wet uneven steps had played on my nerves. When we got to the bottom, Larry said, “I wonder if that couple behind us had every heard those words before.” Thinking of my father’s train of expletives that were stuck in my subconscious, I said, “Oh no, what did I say?” It seems that in my stressed-out condition I had said, “Oh my goodness gracious sakes alive!”

Now what does this blog have to do with gardening or farming? Not a single thing. It has to do with existing. I’m a week and a half into back surgery recovery, and I’m often hurting, bored, emotional, or all three. Besides, I’m addicted to blogging and need a fix! So, thanks for letting me share a memory of better times while I wait to be well enough to go to the farm. I’m certainly missing it and can’t wait to see our corn, potatoes, and gardens even though they will be full of weeds. Oh, and I’ll understand if you think this blog is full of blarney!


Blarney Castle


The Grounds

The people of Ireland keep their land clean and beautiful. Makes me proud to be mostly Irish!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

I had a heavy heart for about a month as I needed to make a decision about having back surgery. An area of my back has caused me some trouble for years, but I babied it and sat and slept with a lumbar roll. Then last fall, I stepped in a hole. Since the pain was in my leg instead of my back until lately, it had me fooled. I wanted to wait until fall for surgery, but finally had it on Friday, which means I'm out of commission for this growing season, and you know how much I love growing and harvesting our food. It also made me cry to miss my granddaughter Katie's senior piano recital and graduation, but realizing how much the pain escalated the last two weeks, I'm thankful I didn't wait another day, let alone until fall.

Everything in life is an experience, though, and now I know about the wonderful nursing staff at Immanuel hospital in Omaha. Thankfully, there are people with the much needed talent and compassion to take care of us when we need them. We had a great time together, joking and laughing through the pain and humiliating loss of privacy.

Now that I won't be able to do farm work this year, especially the important harvesting and preserving, I'm more open to the new role the farm will play in my life. Larry and I have been slowing down considerably, anyway, so an attitude adjustment was inevitable. Somehow, I've thought I must be the only person in the world who has too much to do, learn, and experience to get old. I've been mad that I wasn't 10 years younger, so I could work longer on the farm. Yes, there is always another type of tree or vegetable I want to plant for the first time.

I've often ended my blogs by telling you that we should meet here again, soon, to learn about something or another, but this time, I'll have to admit, I haven't a clue what that will be. I'm only interested in my next pain pill, and if I'll ever have another bowel movement. As I've mentioned before, "This too shall pass” or ”Just take me out and shoot me" or "What kind of a plan is that?" Take your pick!


Here, I'm doing "laps" up and down the walkway on our upper level. It is nice to have something to hang onto.

back brace 

My newest "best friend" is my back brace. It holds me together and gives me confidence that I'm going to make it. I also have a patient private nurse named Larry.


Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you are reading my blog for the first time, you missed a series I did on saving our old buildings. It has occurred to me that I haven’t written about one aspect of neglect that we encountered and perhaps it could be a helpful reminder to someone. You see, when buildings are abandoned, shrubs and trees start growing up close to the foundation, and eventually push it in causing cracks and leaning. The men had to first cut away a lot of this growth before beginning repairs on all our buildings.

I want to tell you about a building we still haven’t tackled that has this problem. It is located right next to the barn and was one of my favorites when we first came; maybe because of all the unusual things we found in it. A neighbor told us that it was built by a gravel company and used to repair their machines as they worked nearby. Thus, we call it the pit. We would like to rebuild on the foundation, if possible, because a lot of it is below ground level and would be perfect for a root cellar and other uses. However, time for doing extra hard work is running out on us old folks, so our immediate goal is to get the roof off as the asphalt shingles are beginning to blow all around.


The cleanup: Here is a photo of the inside after a lot of junk had already been removed. Interesting to me were the shelves of magazines, a sewing machine, wood shavings on the floor, and children’s toys. In my imagination, someone later used this for their hobbies while children played at their feet. OK, they probably just dumped their junk there before leaving! Eventually, we completely cleaned it out and it is very roomy with easy access. The tool bench was built to last, and Larry sometimes uses the vise on it. Granddaughter Erin used it to store hay for her animals.


Maybe you can tell on this similar photo that the left wall is leaning in, so let’s meander outside and find the cause.

hole in ground 

The men had cut down this tree the previous fall, but inquisitive Todd wanted to see just how the culprit did the damage. Notice that someone had painted the end of the pit and just enough of the side so that it looked finished from the house!


Now we can see firsthand a root the size of a large tree branch growing parallel to the wall and pushing it in. What a shame!

It was a wonderful, fulfilling feeling to have saved some of our old buildings even though we tend to be perfectionists and would have preferred everything new. However, it is doubtful we can even use the foundation of this one. It is a reminder for us all, though, to check around our house and buildings to prevent such a dilemma.


Mary ConleyDear friends,

The first summer we had the farm, which was five years ago, we were extremely busy doing cleanup, but managed to plant a few potatoes and some sweet corn in the kitchen garden. It was very exciting for us to have some land and to plant even on such a small scale. I remember when Larry told me there was some old hay in the loft we could use around the potatoes, I thought, “We have hay?” It was like a dream. Later, when the potatoes came up, I was concerned that when I left, the potato bugs would take over. Larry said they didn’t even know we were out there yet! He was wrong, and we managed to harvest wonderful Yukon Gold potatoes. They were the best we had ever eaten. 

We’ve had a drought in the area around our farm, but there were a couple good things that came out of it. There are few mosquitoes or chiggers which set me to puzzling over if a drought lasted long enough, would they become extinct? Or, would we?

Anyway, if you have been wondering if the drought caused a shortage of potato bugs, don't fret. We have discovered that when the grasses are dead, it leaves room for those horrible yellow sticker bushes to grow, and grow they did. Guess what? Potato bugs love sticker bushes, too. At first, Larry thought that only the “learning disabled” bugs were on them, but not so. I found one or two on practically every large sticker bush I whacked off this weekend, and I’m talking about hundreds. They would probably be called yellow sticker bush bugs if it wasn’t so hard to say.

A potato bug is the cutest little thing, if bugs can be cute, and I actually like to do bug patrol. I take a large cottage cheese or yogurt container filled with water and a squirt of dish soap, walk down the rows until I spot one and swish him off the leaf into the water. They are often mating and I can get two at a time! They lay their eggs on the leaves where a beneficial lady bug might come along and eat them. Last patrol, I got over a hundred, but saw only one lady bug. I’m not counting on that plan!


Look at that cute little face! Time for a bath!

potato plants 

Beautiful potato plants.

tiny potatoes

Here is a photo of the first digging of Yukon Gold potatoes last year. The skin is so tender, all one needs to do is scrub them before cooking.

Side track: Do you ever think, “What if?” We play that game quite often. Example: “What if you couldn’t get seed potatoes next year?” My answer is that I fill a couple egg cartons with egg sized potatoes and keep them in the fridge. Yes, it works!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

I’m 72 and my husband, Larry, will also be 72 next month. A few years ago, I learned that when we get older, men start to lose their ability to hear higher tones, women’s voices, and women lose the ability to hear lower tones, men’s voices. That was the first time I remember saying, “What ... kind ... of ... a … plan ... is that?” It seemed to me that we had spent years melding into compatibility, somewhat, and now we had this new problem. Well, just take me out and shoot me. That, dear friends, has become another of my little expressions.

Now, I find I’m often saying, “What kind of plan is that?” I say it often, because it often fits! Have you noticed such things? You don’t need to go into serious world problems, but just everyday situations around you. Example: Our little farm is in a drought area. We were more than thankful last week when 2.7 inches of rain gently fell within a 36-hour period. However, just a little farther away, they got 7 inches and it washed away a small bridge, etc. What kind of plan is that? I would have given them 1 inch a week for seven weeks or saved a couple for July or August.


Notice our swing floating in the water in Sappa Creek along the edge of our property. It is normally a shallow spring-fed stream, but it rose drastically to nearly 10 feet from all the rain nearby.

Then there is the garden. You buy the seeds, do the work, and the bugs come and eat it. What kind of plan is that?

You plant fruit trees, and just when they blossom, you get a heavy frost or freeze that kills the fruit for the year. What kind of plan is that?

Need I go on? I asked Larry if he could remember more of my examples. He said that he had a good one right on the fringe of recall, but he couldn’t quite bring it up. I said, “What kind of plan is that?”

All of the above to tell you that this past weekend, I was surveying my kitchen garden at the farm, and noticing all the tiny plants popping out of the ground. Hope! As I was thinning out the kale and chard, I realized I felt a different type of happiness and peace. I’m sure all you gardeners understand what I’m trying to express. It got me to thinking about how our lives have changed since buying the farm and planting everything we could think of and had time for, and how we are now reaping the rewards.

I realized that all the wonderful organic food starts in the early spring with the lettuces, mint and asparagus. Now it is strawberry and gooseberry time. Then as the summer goes by, we will be canning green beans, freezing sweet corn, and digging potatoes. Hopefully there will be carrots, zucchini, cantaloupe and cucumbers. We should have pears and peaches, and cherries are setting on for the first time. In the fall, there will be apples, acorn and butternut squash, onions and pumpkins. I’m sure I left out other foods, but my point is that it doesn’t all happen at once. Not only do we get to enjoy one fresh food after another, but it gives us time to can or freeze each crop instead of everything needing attention at the same time. Now that, dear friends, is a plan!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

Do you like to knit or crochet? I crochet some, and have made a baby afghan for each of our nine grandchildren. But, since I don't crochet often, it was a labor of love each time.

Following the maze of directions is what is difficult for me. My mother taught me to crochet when I was young, and she always explained each pattern. It is far easier to just do it, than getting lost while reading all that repetitious lingo. However, after figuring out how to do the more difficult eighth and ninth baby afghans, I have a little more confidence in understanding the instructions.

pink baby

#8 _ A pink one for Sophie Kate makes eight!

blue baby

#9_ A blue one for baby Elliott.

Unfortunately, and believe me, it is unfortunate, I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, and often do something wrong and have to rip out a bit. Some people can leave in a mistake, but I can't. That is why I'll never crochet a big afghan. If I had to rip out such long rows, I would probably put it away and never finish it.

Here is what I've come up with: During the next few years, I'm going to try (I said, try) to crochet for the future. I think it would be fun to make a few baby afghans, wash, box up nicely, and have them ready for my great-grandchildren! Don't you think that a splendid idea?! Can't you just see this frail old lady ... (Larry says he can't quite see me as frail) ... OK, can’t you see this pleasantly plump old lady at the baby shower when my granddaughter opens a present of a pretty, soft, baby afghan? She'll half whisper in surprise, "Grandma, did you REALLY make this?" and I'll say, "Sure did. Just whipped it up last week!"

yellow baby

The is the first one to stash away. I need to learn a new pattern!

Actually, I have the first one finished already. It is yellow and cheerful, and it was so fun to make while thinking about the sweet little baby that will be snuggled in it someday! When I showed it to Larry, he said, "What makes you think our first great-grandchild will be a girl?" Oh oh! I guess I'd better buy some blue yarn and get started on the next one. I'm not very fast, but I'm in luck. None of my grandchildren are even married yet!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

Larry and I have been trying to eat more nutritious foods, and have improved immensely since gardening and farming. I use my blender for many things, but especially for fruit and berry smoothies. Recently, we purchased a Vitamix blender in order to make delicious green smoothies as well. Unlike juicers that waste the pulp, a Vitamix turns everything into liquid. We are happy with the results, but have only used it in spurts. That is because I want the greens I eat to be chemical free, and I don't always make it to Whole Foods.

We grow much of our produce, and do it organically, even building up the soil with homemade compost. This past week our belief in the importance of doing so was reinforced with Rodale's "2014 Dirty Dozen List: The Most Pesticide-Laden Produce You're Eating." Spinach was No. 6 on the list, and kale and collard greens were noted to frequently be contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health. So, what to do? The article suggested to at least buy the "dirty dozen" organic.


Now you know why my gardening is changing. I planted kale and Swiss chard for the first time, and a much larger area of spinach. Yes, I planted for our Vitamix!


So far, we’ve tried and liked six recipes from the Vitamix recipe book that use 2 cups of spinach each. I pack the cups full so that Larry and I each get a good serving along with the other nourishing food in the recipe. There are many recipes, so you are certain to find one that suits you.

It’s Easy Being Green Smoothie:

1 cup green grapes
1/2 cup fresh pineapple (I keep frozen pineapple chunks handy)
1 medium banana
1 carrot, halved
2 cups spinach
1 medium apple
6 cups ice cubes

Place ingredients in order list into Vitamix container; secure lid. 

Process beginning with Variable 1 and slowly increasing to Variable 10 and then to High. Blend for 1 minute, or until desired consistency is reached.

I thought it impossible that a baked green leaf could turn into something edible, let alone delicious. You just have to go out on a limb and try this kale chip recipe. The first time I made them, they disappeared so quickly, I made two more batches. I used garlic salt in one and chipotle seasoning in the other.

Carol’s Kale Chips: (from the Natural Grocers calendar)

1 small bunch organic curly leaf kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Rinse kale and dry thoroughly. Tear leaves into large pieces minus the thick stems. In a large bowl, massage oil into the kale and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Arrange leaves on baking sheet in a single layer without overlapping or crowding. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, keeping a close watch to prevent burning.

Happy healthy eating!

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