Pioneer Chronicles or More Reasons Why I Don’t Do Camping

Never underestimate a snow storm.

It sure isn't summer time.

It sure isn’t summer time.

I should know this by now.  Twenty years at Maywood.  We survived the Winter of 1994 when the stream froze and the ground was white with snow and/or ice from Christmas until the first day of spring.  We sledded groceries down to the house…when we could get out to get groceries.  We wheelbarrowed wood to the wood furnace to try to stay warm in the uninsulated Maywood House.

In ’96 we made the evening news when we were the last family in Baltimore County to get plowed out.  They needed front-end loaders to deal with all the snow.  That was the year we drank raw milk from Vernon Foster’s cows.  His grandkids didn’t want to drink it, but we were plenty glad to have it.  One mile of road and we couldn’t drive it.  The only way out was to drive over the corn fields where Robert Warns had plowed a path with some farm machinery.

In 2010 we survived Snow-pocalyse, two back to back monster storms and a snowed in family party that I thought would never end.

We got this much snow.  YOU go out and measure it.

We got this much snow. YOU go out and measure it.

So what’s a little prediction of 3-6 inches.  That changes to 6-12 inches.  Accompanied by single digit temperatures and high winds. Right?

First, my in-laws lost land-line phone service.  My father-in-law called on his cell phone to let me know.  Our land-line is with the cable service so it didn’t affect us.

Then the cable went out.  No phone, no internet, no TV.  No Pandora on my new wireless Bose speaker.  It was looking like hubby and I would have to spend the evening in scintillating conversation.  Fortunately, the smart phones still worked.  I could text and post to Facebook.   Cable service was restored amazingly quickly.  No small feat for Comcast.  Music was playing again within two hours.

No sooner had I finished cleaning up the kitchen and taken a potty break, when the power went out. No lights.  No water.  No heat.

At least the dishes were done and my bladder was empty.  Pottery Barn wickless candles all over the house provided soft illumination. The flashlight app on our smartphones guided us around the house.  We read by the glow of the Nook.

Now, we were relaxing by the wood stove without a fire because hubby said we were out of wood.  With no heat (although the house was still warm), it was time to get picky about what “out of wood” meant.  It did not mean “no wood.”  So the few pieces down in mancave were put to use in the fireplace insert.  Which, by the way, does not have a blower fan when the power is out.  Radiant heat is all you get.

When BGE updated the return of service from 11:15 pm to 6:45 am, it was time to call it a day.  Up to bed fully clothed in fuzzy sweater, fleece pants and socks.  The bed was piled high with blankets.  And hubby puts off a lot of heat.  I was rather comfortable.  Hubby was so comfortable that he slept right through the return of power at 1:55 am, at which time the bedroom was a toasty 56 degrees.

With morning we have lights, water, internet, phone, heat.  There is even a fire going in the fireplace. (“Out of wood” today means that there is wood but it needs to be split.)  It is time for Pioneer Man to get out there on Betsy the Tractor and plow us out.  Yeah, so it’s like 5 degrees out there with a wind chill.  Betsy is not cooperative.  She refuses to start.  Oh, she was quite willing to start two nights ago when it was 40 degrees out.  But now her hydraulic fluid is like sludge.  I don’t blame her, really.  I feel that way too on cold mornings.

Don't you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

Don’t you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

But how will we get out?  This snow is not going to be melting anytime soon.

Pioneer Man calls our neighbor who also has a vintage tractor like Betsy.  Neighbor and family are sick with the flu.  They hired someone to plow them out.

“How much?” asks Pioneer Man.

“Don’t know.  He’s going to bill me,” replies flu-stricken neighbor.

Whoa.  He’s really going to feel ill when that bill comes.

We ponder ways to warm up Betsy.  There is a torpedo-like heater in the  Room of Outer Darkness.  (“Which room of outer darkness?”the daughters may ask.  We have so many. The Room of Outer Darkness is the room off the shop underneath the side porch.  It would make an excellent wine cellar for someone organized and with an ability to not drink every bottle as soon as it enters the house.)  Anyway, this torpedo heater is like the ones you see on the sidelines of football games to warm up the players.  It was left here by a contractor once upon a time.  It runs on kerosene.

We don’t have any kerosene.

We have wine and whiskey, though.  I stocked up on important things before the storm.

In the bee’s midwinter

In the bee’s midwinter frosty winds made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Snow was falling, snow on snow, snow on snow

In the bee’s midwinter not so long ago.


Ok, so I changed a couple of words.

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch.  But he got the job done!

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch. But he got the job done!

Winter has hit hard with the New Year.  Six  inches of fresh snow blanket Maywood.  My car remains halfway down the driveway where I abandoned it last night for fear of sliding right into the house.  (I had already inched my way down the Wicked Curve on Miller Lane as another car tried to make its way up the Wicked Curve, neither of us able to back up.) As I click at the keyboard this morning in blinding snowlight, Maywood Man is outside trying to get the tractor to start so that he can begin plowing.

It is 11 degrees with 25 mph winds. The snow dazzles under cloudless blue skies.  Gusts of wind blow through snow-laden branches and send the powdery flakes whirling like smoke. It is stunningly beautiful from my indoor perspective near a cozy wood stove.   Homemade butternut squash awaits my frozen plowman when he comes in from clearing the road.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it.  Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it. Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

I’m guessing the perspective inside the bee hives is less spectacular.  It is the bleak midwinter  for them.  Too cold to leave the hive, they huddle in a  ball to maintain the hive temperature.  They eat the honey they stored last summer.  They also have grease patties that Mr. Beekeeper/Plowman made for them, a combination of sugar and Crisco.  If they have sufficient numbers, they can keep the hive warm enough to move around to the honey.  If not, they eat what is nearby and hopefully don’t starve before the weather warms up.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but  still had plenty of grease patties.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but still had plenty of grease patties.

Two weeks ago, on a balmy almost 70 degree day, we took a peek in the hives to assess their strength and to offer more grease patties.  The hives were all active with plenty of bees coming and going.  Although the bees have no plants to pollinate in winter, they use the warm winter days for cleansing flights.  Yes, the ladies must keep the hive clean!   Some bees were nibbling at the grease patties,  but they had still had plenty from the last gift– good sign, I think, that they had plenty else to eat.

A week later, Mr. Beekeeper took another quick peek.  Hive B was low in numbers.  So now he has reason to worry.  Should he have removed the grease patties and replaced them with easier to digest fondant?  Is there enough air circulation to keep moisture from building up and freezing into tiny stalactites in the hives?  Should he sweep the snow from around the hives?  Or leave it to act as a blanket?  If he could put tiny little blankets on each of his bees, I think he would do it.

A couple of dead  bees at the entrance to Hive C.

A couple of dead bees at the entrance to Hive C.

Last winter we lost all four hives before Christmas.  It hadn’t even gotten really cold yet, but their numbers were too low to keep themselves warm.  This year, the hives are wrapped for solar heat in tar paper and they have plenty to eat.  They just need to stay warm.  Weather like today’s does not make it easy.  As my son-in-law commented, we went to bed in Maryland but woke up in Siberia.

Ah, but that’s the thing about Maryland.  The weather is always changing.  If the bees can get through this week’s projected snow, rain, ice, and minus two degrees, by next Friday it is supposed to reach 40.

Minus two?

Hang in there, little bees!  We’ve passed the Winter Solstice.  The days are getting longer.CIMG8068

Preparing for Frankenstorm…how scared should I be?

From Radio 96.1

I’m having a hard time getting freaked out over Frankenstorm.  Oh, I know it’s coming.  That big red swoosh on the weather map is headed right for us.  We’re in the swath of massive rain and heavy winds.   And I’m not in denial.  John spent today cleaning out the French drain by our basement door because the basement has flooded with every heavy thunderstorm this year.  There’s no way we’re ignoring a weather forecast of 6″ of rain.

I survived from inside the warm house. John was outside on the tractor.

I think I’m not freaked because it isn’t a snow storm.  I have survived Snowmageddon in the Hereford Zone.  Days and days of being trapped at home, unable to escape because the roads weren’t plowed.  Survival skills involved feeding the entire clan meal after meal.  It was a party that wouldn’t end.  I came close to death by cabin-fever (that’s when I start killing everyone around me). When Hurricane Isabel came through, it was sort of amazing to realize that, hey, the power might be out, but we can still drive to Hunt Valley and eat at Panera.

I do have a full tank of gas.  We can go places.

If we aren’t blocked by falling trees.  One storm felled a big oak tree across our road.  We were able to drive under the tree (that was a little freaky) until John could cut it down with the chain saw.  Hmmm…I wonder if John has extra gas for the chain saw?  If not, I guess he’ll be siphoning it from my car.

See, we’ve been living at Maywood for nineteen years.  (Whoa.) It’s why I won’t go camping.  Maywood is camping.  Well, camping at a luxury lodge with a king-size Sleep Number bed.  (I love my bed.)  But I have paid my dues.  I’ve gone without water.  I’ve gone without heat and electricity.  I’ve been the last one plowed out in Baltimore County.  I  am perfectly capable of roughing it.  That’s par for the course out here.  Out here, we pay our taxes for county services, but we don’t sit on our duffs waiting for the county to take care of us.  We are pioneers. (Roar.) Maywood life has had me roughing it so long that the entire electrical grid could be destroyed and we’d figure it out.

If I lived at the shore, then I think I would be freaked.  The ocean is pretty daggone big.  And big waves are synonymous with destructive power.  But we don’t have the water issues at Maywood that people on the ocean or bay have.  We don’t even have the wind issues that our neighbors up the road have.  We’re kind of nestled back  here.

We do have trees, though.  They come crashing down whenever they want.  One early morning recently a huge piece of a tree came down next door at the old Maywood house where John’s parents live.  John heard it at our house.  John’s mother did not hear it.  She said she had the radio on.  Hmmm….take your pick:  (a) she doesn’t hear well, (b) the radio was on really loud, or (c) both (a) and (b).  Anyway, my point is this: trees crash down whenever they want.  There is just a higher likelihood of it happening during a Frankenstorm.  Ask any actuary.  Actuaries know risk.  (They don’t take risks; they just study it.)

So, in spite of the risk of being hit by a falling tree, I’m still pretty numb to the reality of Frankenstorm.  I want to blame it on weather hype.  How many storms of the century have we had in the past twenty years?  I don’t think I can count them all.  Even if we re-started the clock on “storms of the century” with the new millennium, I’m still running out of fingers.  I can’t maintain that level of weather angst.  And I can’t ignore it by staying off internet or tv.  Now cellphones beep emergency weather notifications.  Just last week, my sister’s phone alerted us to a tornado warning at our exact location.   Oh, the irony of being late to Wicked because of a tornado warning.  We never did get the tornado.

During the last hurricane, all the weather rope did was get wet.

Frankenstorm is coming, but my preps are not so much geared toward actual survival, as to how to minimize annoyance.  What electrically powered things do I need to do now that I won’t be able to do while the power is out?  And that is why I spent today doing laundry.  It’s why my Pottery Barn wickless candles have fresh batteries and my Yankee candles are strategically placed throughout the house.  It’s why my Nook is fully charged.  We may lose power, but I’ll have clean clothes, the house will look cute and smell nice, and I’ll be able to read in the dark.

On the eve of the storm I will fill the bathtubs and the drinking water containers.  I’ll check internet to see if there are any pro-active school cancellations.  And that is really why I’m not scared.  If I have to simultaneously prepare lessons plans and prepare for the complete shut-down of civilization as we know it, well, I’m pretty sure one of those scenarios is not going to happen.

The Scent of Maywood: This Week It’s Wild Roses

Which will dominate the honey flavor this year, tulip poplar or wild rose?

A fragrance cannot be posted in a blog.  Picture and video can provide sight and sound, but to really experience Maywood in spring, you have to smell it.  On a walk down to the field to inspect the blueberries, the sweet smell of grass perfumes the air.  Not the smell of a fresh mowed lawn, this is the smell of  grasses and wildflowers growing in a wild crazy community.  Above it all, the tulip poplars bloom, adding their own subtle note to the air.  Venturing down to the bee-yard, the fruity-floral scent of wild rose dominates.  Small wonder.  Wild rose just plain dominates.

Wild rose, aka multiflora rose, originated in Japan and was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800’s as rootstock for cultivating roses.  In the 1930’s it began to be planted to aid against soil erosion.  Through the 1960’s it was planted along highways as a beautiful natural barrier.  And that is how the wild rose made its way to Maywood–as a planting along I-83.  Officially designated an invasive plant, it certainly thrives on our property.  The span from the bee-yard to the highway is thick barrier of wild roses.  Wild roses are also establishing themselves everywhere else that isn’t mowed.  The edges of the yard are a favorite settling place, but they are not averse to popping up in the middle of the herbs, the day lilies or anywhere else I don’t want them. Wild rose trivia:  the average plant can produce 1 million seeds a year, dispersed by birds who eat the rose hips.  The seeds can last twenty years in the soil.  Oh my.

(Note to blog followers:  the fugitive who instigated our recent midnight manhunt did not enter by way of the roses.  If he had, dogs would not have been needed.  He would have been sufficiently tangled amidst thorns.)

A wild rose barrier from the bees to the highway.

Wild roses may  be invasive but there are so many other invasive things growing around here that they are not high on my list of things to tackle.  Unlike, say, poison ivy, they look and smell pretty and don’t give one a rash.  And the bees love them.

Busy little bee working the wild roses

While we inhale the sweet aroma of wild roses blooming in the clear morning light, pollen-laden bees flit from blossom to blossom.  We can almost taste the honey they will be making.  In the background cars whoosh on the highway but we can’t see them.  They are hidden by a screen of rosa multiflora.

The road less traveled…or alternate routes

An afternoon shot of a less traveled road

With the rare exception of fugitive man-hunts through our woods and the not-so-rare “incident” during rush hour, living next to Interstate 83 is a good thing.  I-83 makes it possible for Hereford Zonians to live in beautiful, rural northern Baltimore County and get to everywhere else.  And that’s the problem.  The highway is the primary travel route for most people to get to work.

My lovely commute can take me down 83, along the “Wicked Westside” of the Beltway and out I-70.  In the middle of the day or the middle of the night, the 35 mile commute takes 35 minutes.  It’s all highway.  But in rush hour, that same commute can take an hour and a half.  It only takes one little highway incident to turn a smooth ride into highway hell.

John Steinbeck, in his novel East of Eden, observed about train schedules:

The split second has been growing more and more important to us.  And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split hundredth, until one day…we’ll say, “Oh, the hell with it!  What’s wrong with an hour?'” But it isn’t silly, this preoccupation with small time units.  One thing late or early can disrupt everything around it, and the disturbance runs outward in bands like the waves from a dropped stone in a quiet pool.

Over the years, traffic incidents at various points along my route have taught me all sorts of alternate (read that, “get me there quicker”) routes.  Adding a GPS to the car enhanced my ability to get to anywhere from anywhere.  I used to listen desperately to the travel report each morning and mentally gamble over the quickest route to work.  Is there a back-up at Padonia Road?  How big is the traffic jam on the west side of the Beltway?  A clear report was no guarantee.  One little fender-bender could throw the whole route into gridlock.

Finally I settled on a back route.  It is ten minutes longer than the highway on a good day. Since there are hardly any good days, except for someone’s holiday–state holidays, school holidays, Jewish holidays, or a really gorgeous Friday in spring–I found the “long” way to be with quick way.  And then I discovered that the long way wasn’t the long way after all.  The long way is actually five miles shorter than the highway route.  That’s ten miles a day, forty miles a month.  That’s 2,000 miles in the course of a school year!  With a  gas-efficient average speed of 50 mph and hardly any bumper-to-bumper stops and starts, the “long” way turns out to be quicker, shorter, and cheaper.

I did not settle on my road less traveled because it was a quick, short, cheap alternate route.  I settled on it because it was the road less traveled.  Fewer cars means fewer drivers to fume at, less road rage, lower blood pressure and fewer headaches.  And the scenery can’t be beat.

I haven’t embraced Steinbeck’s prediction that people might eventually say, “What’s wrong with an hour?”  I do have to get to work.  But there are days when I literally want to stop to smell the roses.  Or take a photograph…

of that mystical sunrise behind the Methodist cemetary

of the white barn glowing yellow in the eastern sunlight

of the early morning mist over the fields

of the horses and riders and dogs setting out on a hunt.

I may never take those pictures.  I am, in my preoccupation with staying employed,  preoccupied with the small time units it would cost me on my way to work.  And if I weren’t heading to work, trust me, I wouldn’t be doing that drive at that hour of the day.

I could delegate the picture-taking to someone else, but that would mean divulging my alternate route, and then it wouldn’t be a road less traveled.

Manhunt at Maywood

Having a fire engine with a full complement of firefighters in the driveway is reassuring when there is a fugitive in the woods.  Being protected in our sleep by so many law enforcement and emergency workers makes me feel secure.  Knowing that police patrol cars, helicopters, search dogs, firefighters, and ambulance drivers know where I live is comforting when one lives at the end of a gravel road in the Hereford Zone.  However, sleeping through the arrival of the aforementioned emergency personnel is rather unnerving–not to mention the need for them to be there in the first place.

John and I were awakened at 2 a.m. the other night not by the whoop-whoop-whoop of the helicopter overhead or the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles all around the property or even the low drone of the fire engine in our driveway.  No, it was a phone call from our neighbor.

“I thought you might want to know what all the lights are for.”

“Huh?  Lights?”  That’s when we looked out the window and saw police cars next door at John’s parents’ house and the fire engine in our driveway, right outside the six-year-old’s bedroom window.  (He slept through all this, too, as did his mother, although she was closer to consciousness and had some bizarre dreams.)  There were enough flashing lights outside to safely land an extraterrestrial space ship.  How we slept through it all is a mystery to me.  The blinds were open and I wasn’t even wearing earplugs.  They were so quiet.  There was no squawking of police radios.  No sirens.  Just the drone of the fire engine, which didn’t sound too much worse than our furnace kicking on.  We were so asleep it’s a wonder we even answered the phone.

Our neighbor had police in his driveway too.  He had gone out to chat with them and learned of the hit-and-run accident on the highway and the disappearance of the driver onto our property.  About then,  an ambulance eased past our house down to my in-law’s house.

“Should I go out and talk to the firefighters?” asked my husband while secretly pondering the need for a cowboy hat, rifle, and cigar.

“There’s an idea,” I suggested somewhat sarcastically.

He found out that a police search dog was in use to track the fugitive.  We surmised from the ambulance that the fugitive had been found.  Alas, no need for the Clint Eastwood gear.

Meanwhile, down at the GGP’s (aka my in-laws, “the Great-grandparents”), the parking area became the staging area for the round-up.  Once the fugitive had been apprehended, the emergency team (which had entered the property from the highway) had to figure out where they were and notify the emergency vehicles of the location relative to actual roads. The GGPs watched as police and dog escorted a bleeding, hand-cuffed man up from the stream road along the tractor path through their yard to the parking area of their house.  There the EMTs secured him to a wheelchair, hoisted him into the ambulance, and whisked him off to a hospital for treatment.  At this point the police departed, the ambulance departed, the fire-fighters went  through some automotive gymnastics with flashlights to turn the truck around in our driveway, and then it also departed.  The slow parade of exiting emergency vehicles took all the spinning, pulsing, throbbing lights with them.

In their wake, several sets of insomniac eyes stared into the darkness.

Busy Beavers

Beaver lumber

We have recently discovered beavers on the property.   Consequently, instead of researching Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales, I’ve been browsing the Internet for information on beavers.   I could be trotting over the stream  and through the woods to visit the beavers myself, but I choose to feign a nap and let John lead the woodland tour. (It’s been a busy weekend and I’m peopled out, ok?)

Here’s a factoid that resonates with me:  beavers build their lodges with underwater entrances.  That means that they can come and go at will, but nobody else can get in!  That is so clever.  I wish my house had that feature.  I have to pretend to be asleep.  I have to deliberately not answer the phone. I have to turn off the lights and hide in the man-cave.  All to no avail because John is out in the driveway luring people inside to taste his venison sausage and liverwurst.

John’s jalapeno venison sausage and his venison liverwurst are worth coming over for.  A visit to our lodge–for those willing to risk a grumpy me–has the bonus of a personal tour of John’s own redneck smoker.  You may have seen, in fancy outdoor and barbecue catalogs, amazingly expensive devices for smoking meats and fish in your very own backyard.  And if you live in a neighborhood with an actual backyard, you probably are required to spend many hundreds of dollars to purchase one of these really cool looking smokers.   But, hey, we live out here in the Hereford Zone and our neighbors are beavers.  The beavers aren’t complaining.  I’m the one who complains.

John's redneck beaver-approved smoker

John knows that he can get away with almost anything if I don’t have to look at it.  He  heads to Home Depot for a galvanized trashcan and some pipe.  A few bucks later, he’s building his smoker and locating it so I can not see it from any window of the house.  His optimism is such that he actually made the sausage first, and then built the smoker.  Well, the daggone thing actually works and his sausage tastes great.

“It’s the best jalapeno venison sausage I’ve ever made,” he quips.

“It’s the only jalapeno venison sausage you’ve ever made,” I retort.

But it really is good.  And what’s more comforting than heading into winter with a supply of sausage and liverwurst? (This is where dear readers are invited to comment…)

post-deluge beaver dam

Back to our little beaver family, so busily gnawing trees and preparing for winter–they have experienced a set-back.  The recent heavy rains washed away a good portion of their dam, not to mention their winter supplies.  Groan…all that work washed away and in need of re-doing.  I feel their pain as I observe the post-Thanksgiving clutter.  Beavers have been known to rebuild a dam overnight.  Alas, it’s going to take me a little longer, especially as I segue from beaver research to Cyber Monday sales.

Do we have electricity?

The rope is wet at 4pm on Saturday.

Monday, when my post for Mondays at Maywood is due, I will either have electricity or not.  I will either be dealing with lack of power, fallen trees, and water where it shouldn’t be, or I will be calmly observing that the prior week brought both an earthquake and a hurricane.  So on Saturday I ponder what I should be doing now before the storm hits.

I have already gotten cash from the bank, stocked up on necessaries like wine, seltzer water, and cheese and crackers.  (Hey, you have your necessities and I have mine!)  I have done the laundry.  The bathtubs are full of water for flushing.  Drinking water supply is ready, and we are stocked with ice.  Paper plates and plastic cups are on hand so we don’t clutter the kitchen with unwashable dishes.  Yankee candles are stationed at strategic lighting stations.  Pottery barn wickless candles are in position too.  Flashlight, cell phones, and Nook are charged.  The yard is tidier than it’s been in months.

So much for making things tidy

(Post storm note:  The bathtub in the master bath does not hold water very well.  Half the water was gone by morning.  I didn’t light a single candle except one in my room for atmosphere.  And the yard is now strewn with what somewhat has labeled “yard salad.”)

It occurs to me that Hereford Zonians are probably better equipped to handle potential storm disruptions than the average person.   We never know when a wayward tree branch, car accident, or thunderstorm will cause a power outage.  Living with wells powered by electric pumps, we know full well the ramifications of not having a water supply.  Recent years have dumped snows that trapped us at home for days at a time.  At least with a hurricane/tropical storm we have advance notice to prepare.  And it’s not cold out!

Tree down...but it's nothing compared to snow!

(Sunday morning, we were temporarily trapped by a tree down across our driveway, but dear hubby made quick work of that with a chainsaw.  Alas, the tree is too small for John to mill on his sawmill.  It’s just firewood now.  Small branches strewn everywhere are being stacked in preparation for the next bonfire.)

So I’m ready, just waiting for the trees to fall over, and pondering what I should do now that I won’t be able to do if the power goes out.  For my husband,  now is the time to watch tv.  For me, now is the time for email banter, Facebook updates, and constant weather checks.  What I should really, really be doing is prepping for classes which start this week and getting myself ready for the work week, but all the storm drama is wearing me out and I’m feeling a need for a nap.  Yes!  A nap!  That’s a great idea.  I should rest up because pioneer living next week is going to be strenuous.  And if the storm doesn’t force me into pioneer living, I’ll be at school and that will be strenuous, too.

The forecast for Maywood as of Saturday afternoon?  I’m seeing a blanket of clouds out the window and a blanket on my bed calling my name.

(I didn’t actually  get a nap in on Saturday.  By the time I finished all my storm prep and watched a ridiculous amount of storm coverage on tv, it was time to fix dinner. On Sunday, however, after cleaning up the bathrooms in preparation for my sister and family to maybe come over to shower, I did take a most delightful nap!  Now I’m ready for the next natural disaster to come my way….oh, that would be the return of students.)

What happened to the mailbox?

So what the heck happened to our mailbox?  Was it rattled by the earthquake?  Was it bonked by a tree during the tropical storm?  If only it were that dramatic.  We suspect that county highway workers rammed it when they mowed along the edge of the road this past week.

Peach Jammin’ 2011

I will not buy peaches in a grocery store.  I don’t care if they do say “locally grown.”  Shipping to a store still means a lag time from orchard to kitchen, and in order not to have gloppy bruised peaches, the fruit must be picked on the early side.  Peaches picked too soon never ripen properly. So instead of buying rock-hard peaches that go bad before they get soft, every summer I go to the source and bring home a lot of peaches.  Then it is Peach Week at our house.

“I  love you a bushel and a peck,” goes the song from the musical Guys and Dolls.  That song is rolling in my head as I look at all my peaches.  I did buy a bushel and a peck.  The  bushel is for making peach yummies: desserts and jam and freezing for winter.  The peck is simply for eating: sliced on cereal or yogurt, or just fist to mouth with juice slobbering down my chin and up to my elbow.  The  bushel and peck of peaches (minus what has already gone into a crustless pie, a batch of jam, and pleasure eating) has exited the boxes for single layer display on the kitchen counter.  Good thing I have a lot of counter space.

Kristin picking peaches, 1984

Once upon a time, I picked the peaches myself.  I used to take the children to Larriland Farm in Howard County.  New-mom Kristin was just a year old when I discovered her in our kitchen, clad only in diaper and t-shirt, slurping a peach she had pilfered from the box of fruit I had picked the day before.  And Harper’s mom Shelley was a wee babe the first time she came along for peach-picking.  But fresh peach fuzz gave me a rash.  It didn’t bother me a day later, but right off the tree the peaches bothered my skin.

Shelley with the peaches, 6 weeks old

When we moved to the Hereford Zone, I headed north to Brown’s Orchards in Loganville, PA, and discovered boxes and boxes of fresh-picked peaches ready to go.  I felt so lazy the first time I bought a box that someone else had picked.  But after buying a peach sundae and eating it at the picnic tables overlooking the orchards, my guilt subsided and I just gave in to the relaxing moment.

The other day, when Harper and I went up to Brown’s, some friendly ladies enjoying their sundaes at the picnic tables asked if we knew about the playground.  Well, talk about a treat!  We hadn’t planned for playground time, but Harper checked it out, had a quick slide down the sliding board and approved the monkey bars.  It won’t take any arm-twisting to get him to accompany me on my next trip to Brown’s.

Peach jammin'

So what have I done with a bushel and a peck of peaches?  Two batches of jam, peach sorbet, a crustless peach pie, 2 “pie-fulls” of sliced peaches in the freezer, some smoothies, a peach cake, and frozen ice cube trays of peach purée for future smoothies and for baby John to eat in a month or so!  Wow, before next peach season rolls around Tiny Reber will be born and old enough to eat them!

Here’s the recipe for the absolutely amazing peach sorbet I made this week:

Peach Sorbet

2.5 pounds of ripe peaches (about 10 peaches)

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier*

Peel, pit, and chop the peaches. Pulse in food processor with sugar and salt until combined.  With processor running, add the water, lemon juice, and Grand Marnier.  Process for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar.

Chill in fridge for an hour.  Once chilled, pour into ice cream maker and process for about 20 minutes, or until slushy.  Transfer to freezer bowl, cover surface with plastic wrap to avoid ice crystals and freeze several hours until firm.

(*I used Grand Marnier because several recipes I looked at called for it and I had it in the house.  I would have tried Amaretto, but didn’t have any.  And Peach Schnappes would be an obvious option.  The alcohol helps with the texture of the sorbet.)

Where there’s smoke…

Where there’s smoke at Maywood there may be a driver on 83 who thinks the woods are on fire.  We live at the dead end of nowhere bordering an interstate.  In summer we can’t even see the highway.  We hear it, though– a constant whoosh that is immensely soothing to our 6 week old grandson.  (The rest of us have conversations sprinkled with “What?  Look at me when you speak!”  And I personally pretend that it is the roar of the ocean and that tractor-trailers are motor boats roaring by.)

Anyway, the other night we were enjoying a little bonfire.  I wish I had a picture of it.  It wasn’t even big enough to call a bonfire.  It was a mere campfire.  Hey, it was mid-week and we were just having it because the evening was pleasant and five year old Harper wanted one.  This was no stay-up-til-2am fire.  It was a just-til-bedtime fire.  Harper and John gathered sticks and logs, mainly from a pine that came smashing down in last winter’s heavy snows.  The wood was not seasoned and we’ve had rain.

It was a pleasant little fire–albeit a bit smoky– and we were relaxing in the yard when we heard a rumbling come down the road.  It rumbled like heavy machinery.  A truck, perhaps.  It stopped in our driveway and there were blinking lights.  What the heck?  I eased out of my classy plastic adirondack chair to take a look.  It was a fire engine.

Two firefighters got out.  One wore a button-down shirt and khakis.  The other, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, put on his fire hat to look official.  They were clearly not responding to an emergency.  They took in the three adults and one child sitting by the little bitty camp fire in the middle of an expansive, lush yard, far from the house.

“Wow, you’re really back here.  Cookin’ hot dogs for dinner?” they asked with bemused looks.

“Yes,” I replied.  (One is always cooking hotdogs when one has a backyard bonfire.)

“Someone on 83 noticed the smoke.”

“Oh, really?  Do have any suggestions for that?”

“Next time, build a bigger fire.”