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10/24/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Larry and I are both 72 and the youngest in our families. If we live long enough, we’ll bury all our siblings and their mates. It has already started and it isn’t fun. We just attended the funeral of one of my brothers. I have one of five left, and he is teetering on the edge. I’m sure many of you can somewhat relate.

In my 60 plus blogs, I’ve usually shared with you something just learned. Today, I’m wondering if maybe there are others besides myself who could use a little healing, a lift, or a rest. I’ve read that even imagining a beautiful scene for a short time can relax your body and give you peace, so I’m going to stray from the usual and hope you’ll join me as I tell you about our week and show you some photos.

As we traveled to the funeral, not having given previous thought about what we would be seeing, we experienced the rolling hills of Missouri all decked out in their best. Oh, my, what a treat! How refreshing! I wish you could have traveled the same road. After the funeral, we went to the farm instead of coming back to the city. The last two days there were amazing. The first of the two was warm, still and perfect, while the second was windy with golden leaves falling on us and our projects.

I know I’ve posted a sunrise photo taken from our patio before, but here are three more:

orange sky

I just have a point and shoot camera so these brilliant colors are real.

higher sky

I’m always surprised that the beauty isn’t just where the sun peeks up, but the clouds way above are just as pretty, appearing orange, pink and lavender. You might want to pull one of these photos off and use it for your desktop!

layers

This is the exact same place where I have taken many photos. We love our crooked tree and the sunrises behind it. I chose this particular photo because it is so completely different from the rest. I hope you can see what that special feature is. On my computer screen, the leaves on the tree appear the same as the various colored layers in the sky. Starting at the bottom the row of trees in the background is orange and then a light yellow sky. Next, the leaves seem to be taking on the colors of yellow, various shades of pink and lavender, and then green at the very top. This tree often looks golden in the evening just before sunset, but I’ve never seen it decorated with colored leaves before.

cat

OK, so I’ve sidetracked a little! This is Cat, or at least that is what we call him. He isn’t ours. Nope, he just belongs to himself. He won’t let us pet him, but sits at the sliding glass door and stares at us until we feed him. He just uses us, and then we worry about how he’ll survive until we return! The lilac bush is still green.

lower field

We put the white trim on the corners of our barn and shop this week, and Larry is starting to work under the eaves. Notice how the lower field is lit up.

shop trim

It was a pleasure to be outside working on such a pretty day. We needed to be careful not to lay a tool on the ground and lose it under the fast falling leaves, and one fell in my paint can. 

woodpile

Now, doesn’t this photo just quiet the soul?

bales

The neighbor’s field.

Now that we all feel better, I have a cute true story to tell you:

It Pays to be Romantic

On the way to the farm from the funeral, Larry and I stopped at a Walmart about 10 in the evening. When we left the store, we couldn’t find where we had parked. A lady said, “Your car is right over there!” I asked her how she knew and she said she saw us get out and walk to the store. Wow! I told her she would be a great eye witness to a robbery or murder. Then she said, “I just noticed you holding hands and thought, 'How sweet!'”

Thanks for joining me for this little chat. Count your blessings and have a nice day!



10/9/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Someone always asks us what kind of apples we grow, and I’d like to tell you all about our choices, hoping our information will be helpful to anyone wishing to start their own orchard or plant a couple trees. We have two 20-by-30-foot fenced-in orchards containing six trees each, some duplicates. This size works well for keeping out deer. All the trees are dwarf but one, and it is wonderful to do the picking while standing on the ground. Our farm is in a low area, so we planted the two orchards in different places hoping at least one would do well. They both do.

We purchased our trees from Stark Bro.’s catalog, which gives all the information needed, and spent hours choosing for pollination purposes and disease resistance since we grow organically. At the end of the second year, one semi-dwarf tree quickly up and died without a clue. It is possible a mole killed it, although we couldn’t find evidence by its roots. Its replacement also died. We are now growing a Honeycrisp in its place, which isn’t promoted as resistant to anything. Larry chose it for an important reason: It is his favorite store-bought apple! We’ll see. If our harvest is like this each year, we won’t ever need to buy apples. Thankfully, he loves them all.

Our apples ripen at varying times starting in late August with the two Stark Grandgala trees that have beautiful large apples good for eating or cooking. Then our only semi-dwarf, Jonafree, is mature in early September. The Honeycrisp hasn’t produced yet, but should also be ready in early September. By mid to late September, the two Stark Golden Delicious are ripe. They are my favorite, and this year we dehydrated many Ziplock bags full of apple slices. We also have two Stark Enterprise trees, and one Red Fuji we picked at the end of September. The two Goldrush trees were ready by the first of October, and we’ll need to wait until early November for the Granny Smith apples. When we planted the trees, we hadn’t considered how nice it would be for them to ripen at different times. Occasionally, things work out just right!

choosing an apple tree/Golden 

Stark Golden Delicious

choosing an apple tree/middle tree

Enterprise Apple

choosing an apple tree/Granny

The Granny Smith Apple: They have gotten larger since this photo was taken. I usually buy them for pies. This year, I think I’ll try canning apple pie filling.

We have had good luck with our choices, so if you like, you can save yourself much research and follow our planting pattern. We live in Zone six.

Planting order for orchard No. 1:

Front row: Enterprise – Stark Golden Delicious – Stark Grandgala

Back row: Jonafree – Goldrush – Red Fuji

Planting order for orchard No. 2:

Front row: Honey Crisp – Goldrush – Granny Smith

Back row: Enterprise – Stark Golden Delicious – Stark Grandgala

Quote: “An apple tree is just like a person. In order to thrive, it needs companionship that’s similar to it in some ways, but quite different than others.” –Jeffrey Stepakoff, The Orchard



10/6/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

My daughter-in-law, Krista, told me that Charlie was learning about food preservation and asked if he and Sophie could come over while we were canning. I opted for using the dehydrator instead, as canning would be more stressful with grandchildren around the stove and hot pears or bubbling applesauce.

They came one early evening, and we talked about how quickly food spoils, and one of the ways to save it for later use is to dry or dehydrate it. Grandpa let them each lift a cake pan containing five pounds of apples, and then showed them what that same amount looked like after being dried. A real space saver compared to canning. We also talked about how people used to dry food in the sun and wondered about the bugs.

food preservation/Charlie and Sophie 

I was looking at their cute faces and almost missed the pan of five pounds of apples! Sophie is holding the same amount after being dried.

food preservation/treats on the trays 

Grandpa and I had peeled and sliced pears into a mixture of pineapple juice and water just before Charlie and Sophie came, and they helped us lay them on the nine shelves so the pieces didn't overlap.

food preservation/taking trays from the dehydrator 

They each put a shelf into the dehydrator. It takes 12 hours for the pear slices to dry, so it is best to do this either in the early morning or evening. I learned that the hard way the first time I used the dehydrator. Nothing like getting up two or three times in the night checking to see if the process is finished!

food preservation/sampling the finished product 

We also sampled some finished dried apples and pears.

food preservation/dried pears 

The dried apples are good, but surprisingly the pears are sweeter and oh, so yummy! They look like french fries, don't you think? Well, that was our lesson on food preparation. Charlie and Sophie were very attentive and helpful as expected. Grandpa behaved well, too!

Note: We love our Excalibur dehydrator with its nine drawers!



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!





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