Violet Syrup Revisited

I should’ve blogged about this sooner as it has been over a week since I posted about harvesting the violet blooms from my yard…especially since the recipe I posted with it called for 8 cups of water, 8 cups of sugar per 1 cup of violet blossoms. Unless you have an extremely sweet tooth, you might want to cut back a little on the sugar. I followed the recipe to the letter and found it to be so sweet, it was actually painful (if that’s even possible). There was also no need for me to gather a second cup of blossoms as I now have five quarts of violet syrup…Mom and I may be eating a lot of pancakes for a while. (chuckle)

Actually, it’s funny because I’m finding that I’m not caring as much for the end product–though that’s always a plus–but it’s the whole process of watching, waiting, harvesting, preserving that keeps me homesteading. It’s the journey. The skills learned along the way. And the satisfaction I find every time I try something new.

Violet syrup? Who knew?

And with it, comes a bit of nostalgia. As a little girl, I was forever picking the violets and dandelions that graced the lawn of my paternal grandparents’ home. Though the blending of deep purple and bright yellow might be considered gaudy by many if, for example, you were to paint your house in this combination (this from the lady who painted hers black with orange doors, but that’s another story for another time…), to my 4, 5, 6 year-old self, they were a striking contrast that looked oh-so-delicate in a little Dixie cup on my grandmother’s windowsill. Sure, I felt a little sorrow the next morning when those bright blossoms shriveled and curled and turned various shades of brown in their cup and yet, the next day, I couldn’t resist picking a few more.

Today, the herbalist in me recommends dandelion greens for everything from a healthy fodder for your rabbits, goats, poultry, etc. to a valuable folk remedy for kidney and urinary infections. And I’m making violet syrup to pour over pancakes. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick a few extra blossoms for my own windowsill now…and come full circle.

May God bless you & keep you!

Have a Coke and a Smile

I think I was in high school–or not long after–when Coca-Cola came out with that slogan: Have a Coke and a Smile. Considering all the sugar in it, the high fructose corn syrup, it’s a wonder anyone drinking it has a healthy tooth in their head with which to smile. I wasn’t as health-conscious back in high school; a glass of Coca-Cola was a treat from time to time. Today, with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, any soft drink puts me in a world of hurt. But today, I bought a single-serve bottle of Coke.

Just not to drink.

Reducing my carbon footprint has been an ongoing goal of mine ever since I worked in Corporate America. The two hour commute weighed heavily on me. I wanted to work closer to home so that I could walk. Or pedal push. And yet, four years’ ago, when I started working at a local car dealership that is less than two miles’ away (yeah, there’s an oxymoron for you…), I continued to drive. It wasn’t until circumstances forced me to start hoofing it that I actually got up the gumption to start doing it. Granted, I work evenings so safety is a bit of an issue. It’s the whole single-female-walking-alone-in-the-dark-past-fields-of-corn thing. No, I don’t expect children bearing scythes and other sharp, servering objects to come popping out at me, but it does take a bit of nerve…or it did until we set the clocks ahead and now the sun stays up long enough for me to reach home again. There is also a safety issue in that there are no sidewalks beyond the local super Walmart so at least a mile of that walk is spent in the breakdown lane. Not the most operative choice, if I do say so myself.

Pedal-pushing would be much better. But, underemployment, as that evening job at the dealership is part-time, is making that adult-sized tricycle a bit out of reach at the moment. I’m opting for the trike because it is also a cargo bike. There is a big basket that sits between the two back wheels for hauling groceries and pet feed and such home. This would certainly beat lugging heavy bags home by hand. And Walmart will also assemble it for me when I walk down to pick it up. So, a future goal. For now, I make do with what is.

I won a bicycle many years’ ago. Granted, it’s not a cargo bike. It’s not even a tricycle. It’s a simple, two-wheeler…a vintage-style Schwinn, single “gear”, with the brake down by the pedal rather than the hand brakes that usually grace modern bicycle handlebars (picture the bike Margaret Hamilton rode in “The Wizard of Oz”…before she graduated to a broomstick).

I won it…and it has sat collecting dust and rust in the soon-to-be new barn ever since. Oh, I’ve pulled it out a time or two, pumped up the softened tires as needed and given it a whirl here or there. I simply don’t have a lot of confidence in my balancing ability (I’m a bit of a klutz) and I’ve allowed it to intimidate me–especially the prospect of riding it on Interstate 6! But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, so this morning I pulled it out of its enforced retirement and gave the chain a good drink of WD-40. Then I pumped up the front tire that had gone flat and am now waiting to see if it holds the air or if the inner-tube needs replacing. Sadly, the handlebars had rusted quite a bit in storage. What to do?

My very first bicycle was a hand-me-down from my maternal grandfather. It had belonged to one of my aunts who had since graduated to a 10-speed. Like this vintage-Schwinn, her old bicycle had sat in the basement for some time and had rusted. My grandfather took some Coca-Cola, and a bit of aluminum foil, and took the rust off with it. I wondered if it would work for this bicycle, too. We didn’t have aluminum foil. And I wasn’t about to buy a roll of it just to see if I could remove some rust. I also wasn’t buying a whole 2-liter bottle of Coke. A single-serve size would do…along with a piece of steel wool we had under the sink for cleaning the pots and pans.

It only took seconds to see that, yes, the Coca-Cola was taking that rust right off of those handlebars. In less than 15 minutes I had removed every inch of rust from those handlebars, rinsed it with water, and polished it up with a soft cloth. It looks like a new bike. The Coke worked like a charm…and I only used a small portion of what was in the bottle.

As Mom sipped the remainder of it, I wondered what does it do to our insides?

May God bless you & keep you!

Violet Syrup

That name alone was enough to catch my attention last spring. I’ve heard of sugared violets before, for decorating cakes, but never violet syrup. But the blog I was reading and following added a post about gathering wild violets and making a syrup out of them. This young mother would make quite a number of quarts from them to be used on pancakes and waffles and such; her children loved it. I was intrigued.

Of course, by the time I’d read the post–perpetually always a few days to a week behind on my reading–the carpet of violets that cover a good portion of my property were out of bloom. I have been waiting patiently for this spring to gather some and give it a whirl.

And I almost missed them again.

Northeastern Connecticut has been inundated with rain. Rain. And more RAIN. I shouldn’t lament; my well is getting a good replenishing. But who wants to pick flowers in a deluge? Sure, and I could consider the adventure of it but, when the rain is pouring down like that, I’d rather curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. And I confess I’ve indulged that desire a bit over the last few days.

Today it was back to business as usual though. The sun is shining and the forecast is for upper-70’s to mid-80’s over the next few days. Suddenly, that “blah” feeling I tend to experience when it rains steady for too long, has gone away and I’m charged again.

So I picked some violets.

The recipe I have calls for 1 cup of the flower heads to 4 cups of sugar. But you have to brew the flowers in 4 cups of hot water for 30 minutes on up to 8 hours (or overnight) and then slowly melt the sugar into the heated violet “tea”. The recipe says it will not be the pretty purple you expect until you add a bit of lemon juice…a little bit at a time. Right now my “tea” is a lovely green. It even smells green…with a hint of violet. It is hard to imagine a few squirts of lemon will change that to a purple later on but we shall see…who am I to question the logic of chemistry? Or the allure of magick?

May God bless you & keep you!

Rainy Days

“In bygone days He permitted the nations to go their own ways, but He never left Himself without a witness; there were always His reminders–the kind things He did such as sending you rain and good crops and giving you food and gladness” Acts 14: 16-17

I’m of two minds when it rains. There is that laze-around-in-my-pj’s-curled-up-with-a-good-book mindset. And woe the temptations of the flesh because that is often the mindset I follow under angry, black clouds. Today it’s the good-day-to-putter-around-the-house-and-get-things-done mentality. I hit the yoga mat early this morning, waking before the alarm–despite the dreary skies–and then added a few pages to my book. Max was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs to go out when I finished up. The rain was only threatening at 7:30 a.m. but the warmer temperatures we’ve had over the weekend has left a muddy mess of the barnyard as snow from Blizzard Stella melted away. Max, being a dog, did what dogs do best…he stayed out in the mud a little longer than usual and tracked wet, muddy prints throughout the house when he came back in. I tugged on my rubber boots, threw a coat over my pj’s (standard morning chore attire) and began schlepping water and feed out to the goats, chickens and ducks. The usual cacophony of barnyard greetings met me as I opened first the hen house and then the goat barn. I’d like to think they’re happy to just see me but I suspect it’s only the canisters of feed I’m bearing as gifts that bring about this reaction to me…

The rain started in earnest shortly after their breakfast.

Mom calls these heavy rains we’re having today “season breakers”. And she’s probably right except she will call every hint of snow or rain, from now until the trees finally bud and the thermometer hits and stays steady above 50 degrees for more than a week, a “season breaker”. It’s all good. And she bears the occasional razzing from me with grace.

Actually, I hope she’s right. There’s much to do this spring on the homestead and I am eager to get started. Despite Mom’s predictions, the weather in New England is too unpredictable this time of year so it will be a few more weeks before I can start planting and there’s a bit of landscaping to finish up from last fall before that planting can be done. Again, I’m looking forward to it. The last couple of years I’ve been in such a slump that I’ve neglected my gardens. I’ve got itchy fingers now, looking to plunge into that soil and cultivate some life-giving sustenance from it.

The goats, chickens and ducks are also getting new living quarters. The old shed that I converted back in 2010 has seen its better days. I can throw a few old pallets down on the rotting floors and continue to use it for storing firewood and/or hay but it has seen its last winter as a barn. This will take some doing; I’m definitely not a contractor or construction worker but I don’t think this will be too difficult. The “new” structure is already here in the form of a double bay garage. The previous owners of the property had removed the garage doors, built a wall, and added a door to the outside (albeit, it faces into the garden so it will not be seeing much use…). The floor is still concrete, which will be much easier to clean than wood. No oil stains or anything that might prove hazardous to the animals. There’s even a propane space heater mounted towards the ceiling, well out of reach of curious goats, but available if needed. The only real work to do is the construction of a few stalls inside, the removal of the back window that faces the barnyard, and building a ramp for the animals to get in and out. And, of course, said window will have to be replaced with some sort of door to keep them in at night…and the predators out. The biggest part of the job will be cleaning it out as it has become the depository of any unwanted “junk” and out of season “stuff”. And that about sums it up.

(Yes, I do still have some minimalist chores to attend to, too…)

In another 15 minutes or so, it will be time to head to work–the paid position in town. But, for now, I’m compromising with this rain, writing and working and puttering around in my pj’s, as it washes away the last of the snow and reveals just how much clean-up is still to do in the gardens. And about the homestead.

May God bless you & keep you!

Thoughts on This Blogging Thing

It has been seven months of pretty steady blogging. And, wow, what a change in my life this has made. Sure, there have been a few hiccoughs along the way when my postings haven’t been quite as steady: a bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (still recovering from that but it’s getting better); the loss of Internet service at home; and, amazingly, once you break a habit, such as a very early rising to write and blog, it is very difficult to get back on that horse again and ride, as they say. But I won’t give up. And I love horses…and blogging.

Obviously, this post is a reflection of these past seven months. Prior to making this commitment, my blog posts were pretty sporadic, spanning months sometimes in between. Now, when I’m away for even a few days, I’m like that hungry bear coming out of hibernation. It’s become like a drug and I need my fix. These seven months have taught me a few things, too.

First, I underestimate myself. And maybe others, too. When I first started, I think the reason my posts were so few and far between was because I didn’t believe I had anything to say that people would want to read. The long list of followers and “likes” for each post that I have received these last several months–both here on WordPress and on my Facebook timeline from friends and family–have proved me wrong. And a big “Thank You!” to all of you for the boost in confidence; the support; and simply for being curious enough to read a post or two in the first place. Also, to the many friends and family members who have “shared” some of my posts.

“In Al-Anon I realized that I had a distorted self-image. I had never thought to question my beliefs, but when I took a good look, I discovered they were untrue.” (Courage to Change, 1992, 192)

Another thing I’ve learned, and there is a little voice of cynicism rippling through as I type this, is there is definitely some truth to that old adage that those closest to you have the toughest time accepting changes in you. In being brutally and painfully honest about the effects of alcoholism and abuse in my past; in sharing political views; in taking a much stronger stand with my blog about animal rights and environmentalism; in staying true to my faith in God and openly sharing that faith, I have alienated many who have been close to me and yet, ironically, found new friends who share my views–in some cases, in places I never would have expected. This last one is a gift because we can never have too many friends.

A difference of opinion can divide the best of friends. I am learning, through blogging, to be more forgiving of those whose reactions in the face of a different opinion may be hostile. I’m learning not to react in kind. A difference of opinion is simply that. A difference. It need not divide us. But I’m also learning to accept that sometimes it does…and not to take it so personally. In short, I’m growing a thicker skin yet being more willing to offer that olive branch in return. Life is too short.

I think the most amazing thing that has happened with blogging, is I am learning to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I hope I am doing so in a respectful way; I have no desire to purposefully alienate anyone…I do enough of that without trying. (chuckle) But I am no longer as afraid to rock the proverbial boat. My thoughts, feelings, views and opinions may be in the minority in some circles. But I truly have learned to say, “That’s okay”, and really mean it. I now share those feelings, thoughts, opinions and views anyway. And not as a heart-on-my-sleeve victim but simply as a fellow human being with a voice that no longer wishes to be silent. And, really, I think that’s what writing is all about: having something to say. Whether it is a blog, such as this one, a news story, a textbook or even a story made up expressly for the purpose of entertaining, writers are good with words. I hope I am…and this blog is good means of exercising that creative muscle.

As for homesteading? This blog has been good medicine for that, too. I know where I want to go, where I want to be but, for years, I have allowed others to sometimes influence of bit of my direction. If there is anyone more of a non-conformist as me, I’d truly like to meet them. While more and more people turn back to the land because of a distrust of what’s in our food and what sort of damage is being done to the environment, I am in the minority even further being a single female doing this homesteading thing and, while I raise animals, I do NOT raise them for meat. That’s a complete anomaly. They are here for eggs or dairy, or fiber for spinning, depending on the animal; they give me free fertilizer for the garden; companionship, love and laughter. That’s enough. But it has taken me seven months of steady blogging to be able to write this and to say it aloud, and to not care if people don’t “get it”. This is part of who I am and I make no apology for it.

A friend sent me something that I copied on a little Post-It note that has been attributed to author Anais Nin. I don’t know if she really said this or not but it fits: The time came that to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

“Courage to Change” Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature. Al-Anon, Virginia: 1992

Another Benefit

Adding onto yesterday’s “Public Office” posting, I’m definitely seeing another merit to using a public facility to write/study. Here in this booth, I am in my own little world and yet, life is swirling all around me. It’s rather comfortable.

More importantly, I am also being forced to be a little more pro-active in completing my homework assignments well ahead of their due date. As long as we’re boycotting Charter’s high prices, I cannot procrastinate and then “cram” Sunday night when everything is due. Everything closes down fairly early in Northeast Connecticut on Sunday evenings. The public library, my first choice for working in public, isn’t even open on Sundays. And the hours are pretty limited during the week: M/W 2-7 (I work 3:30-7:30), T/S 11-5 and Th/F 2-5. I didn’t make the 2 p.m. time slot this afternoon so I’m back at the coffee shop with another cup of tea. As it is Friday, two days’ before my assignments’ due dates, and I have already turned them in, I am feeling pretty good.

So far, the only drawback I can see is, as it is a public venue, video viewing, which is part of my education, may be limited. I may lower the volume but it also eats a lot of battery juice so will have to seek out booths and tables with an outlet under them…just in case. Otherwise, this isn’t a bad deal at all.

It also gets me out of the house. I really am the hermit in the woods, tending to be a homebody these last few years. And, because I am taking up public space, and trying to be respectful about it, I’m also focusing on the essentials…rather than the multiple newsletters and free webinars I lamented about a couple of posts’ back. Come springtime, and my investment in an adult-sized tricycle (they come with handy little hauling baskets between the back wheels…I also have balance issues, despite the yoga), I can add 1/2 hour each way of exercise to my routine…and a reduction of my carbon footprint. Not a bad deal at all for a $1.79 cup of tea…or a free book rental from the local library to curl up with when my work day is done.

May God bless you & keep you!

Public Office

No, I’m not running for any election or government position. I’d be a terrible politician. And probably get myself bumped off due to my tree hugging, Bible thumping, no kitty left behind, tightwaddery views. Every petroleum based industry would be wanting to stick my head on the proverbial platter. So, no, not looking for a career in government any time soon.

“Public Office” is literal. I am currently sitting in a public coffee shop typing this up. The reasons are two-fold. The first is Charter Communications keeps jacking their prices up to where it has become too expensive to keep Wi-fi/Internet/cable TV etc. at home on a part-time income. Mom and I do not watch the boob-tube enough to justify the expense (though Mom is sure to miss her HGTV from time to time…), and I can’t remember the last time I saw a good, quality TV show. Though there is still the expense of a cup of tea at the local coffee shop, when doing the math, it is much less than Charter’s bill. (And before all the aunties start coming out of the woodwork with pitchforks after me, the decision to remove cable and internet from the house was Mom’s decision; she approached me with it). I know all about licensing expenses and insurance and keeping folks on the payroll, as Charter must do, but sometimes you have to take a stand and we’re doing it by withdrawing our business.

The second reason is part of the first because it has forced me to take the advice of other work/study-from-home friends who say they are way more productive sitting in a public place away from home distractions. And I certainly have them. While I’m a pro at ignoring the telephone, knocks on the door–whether the outside door or my home office door from Mom–cannot be ignored without appearing rude and/or anti-social. Here, I have one responsibility: to write. Whether it is schoolwork, blogging, or work on one of the three novels I have “in the works”, this is all I have to do. And, though it is only my first day in this “public office”, I’m finding my focus is much stronger. And that’s worth the $2 and change for a cup of delicious Chai tea…albeit it may knock the 30 lb. weight loss plan out of the ballpark.

May God bless you & keep you!