Monday, October 28, 2013

Baking Bad

Larry often says that cooking is interpretive and experimental, but baking is like chemistry – you have to have the ingredients just right, or it doesn’t work out.

I’ve never been much of a cook. I have a few culinary tricks up my sleeve, but for the most part my food preparation is utilitarian in nature. If I were a single woman, I’d probably live on bologna sandwiches and Captain Crunch. Fortunately for me, Larry enjoys cooking and usually takes the helm in the kitchen.

Once in a while, though, I get an urge to bake, especially in the fall. I found a recipe for Impossible Pumpkin Cookies that, despite their name, seemed pretty easy. After starting to mix the ingredients, however, I realized I had purchased a can of sweetened milk and not condensed milk. There was no conversion or swapping mentioned in my standby Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. So I called my friend and baking guru, Dianne Johnstone.
Dianne said no, you really can’t use one in place of the other, and there wasn’t any real workaround. She asked what I was making and I said Impossible Pumpkin Cookies, the impossible part apparently being the cook’s ability to pick up the right ingredients from the store.
In the end, the cookies proved impossible for me, as they had a weird timeframe of cooking 10 minutes, then sitting out for 10 minutes, then going in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Behind the eight ball now because of having to run to the store again and having to be somewhere shortly, I fudged the time sitting to 5 minutes and time in the fridge to half a day. Let’s just say the chickens were the beneficiaries of that particular attempt.

This weekend I had a herd of bananas on my counter that were growing blacker by the day, slowly inching their way towards the compost pail. I decided to wash the dead bugs out of my bread pans and try some banana bread. I utilized the basics of a new recipe in my cookbook with some of my favorite components from a banana muffin recipe.
But when I started putting all the dry ingredients in the bowl I realized I was looking at the wrong recipe in the cookbook (I have GOT to get new glasses), so I pulled out a pinch of what looked like the baking powder here and some of what looked like the baking soda there. Instead of one monster loaf, I split it between two pans and hoped for the best. I warned Larry this was a compilation recipe, there were no guarantees.
To my surprise, they came out great – no small feat for me - cooked through perfectly, moist and delicious, as good banana bread should be. Welcome Fall! Sometimes mad science in the kitchen wields wonderfully tasty results.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Operator, Can You Help Me Make This Call?

Telephone:  an instrument for reproducing sounds at a distance; specif: one in which sound is converted into electrical impulses for transmission (as by wire) – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

I had to get a new telephone for the house. As much as I prefer our old black rotary phone, which can double as a weapon against intruders, telephone transmissions no longer play nice with them. The cordless unit we had was beginning to act up, and we were never

happy with the clarity of the answering machine recording. It always sounded like a bad fast food drive-through.

Best Buy can be intimidating to us just-fell-off-the-turnip-truckers: cavernous, flashy and overstimulating. There are too many options. Sales people are either over exuberant (which is quickly followed by exasperation when they see I have no idea what they’re talking about, and they have to dumb everything down) or they try to keep two displays away and avoid eye contact so they don’t have to deal with me.

I wandered the store for a while unsuccessfully trying to find regular telephones. I dawdled by the iPods and mp3 players, something I’ve been thinking about getting for a while but I’m 1) too cheap and 2) too intimated to learn how to use them. You’d think that the adult education folks would offer something useful like "Portable Music for Dummies." What struck me was their size; the last time I looked at them they were something you could put down without losing. Now, they’re the size of a graham cracker. The label actual included the word "Walkman" (well, that I could relate to) and "video." How are you supposed to view video on such a tiny screen? Are optometrists in on this?

Unable to find unmobile telephones, I reluctantly approached a team of three cell phone salespersons. "I’m almost afraid to ask this," I said, "but do you have regular telephones, you know, for landlines?" The inner struggle between being helpful and being condescending showed on the young guy’s face. "Sure," he smiled. "Follow me."

He practically jogged to a far wall of the store, while I hobbled after him, trying to keep up. He led me to a cobwebby and dusty shelving display, to the technological Island of Misfit Toys. "Here you go!" he announced and promptly disappeared. These phones were unpromoted and unannounced, no "Outdated Technology For Losers" signage which would have been helpful. The five display phones looked sad and neglected, spaces between them on the shelves where their brethren had been removed, never to be restocked again. All I wanted was a phone with an answering machine built it. Most of the options were a phone base with six offspring so every room in our house could have telecommunications.

I finally zeroed in on one. The box read "Communication Answering System." The word telephone was nowhere on the package. I suppose that word is now obsolete as well. Its proudly listed features included large, backlit buttons and caller ID that announced who was calling. I suppose these are helpful for us old people, who are the only ones buying these archaic things anymore. I’m surprised it didn’t come with a sample of Lipitor or a coupon for Depends.

When I approached the cashier, I joked that it was called an answering system versus a telephone. She gave me a sad, tolerant smile. "Hardly anyone has landlines anymore," she said. Yeah, well, I live in the country, honey, I kept from saying. I’d like to see how well your ass stacks firewood.

This weekend I will fortify myself with some tequila and take a run at getting our new communication answering system hooked up, charged, and programmed properly. I can always hope for a power outage, where I'll have no choice but to plug in the rotary phone.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Clearing the Channels

Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where hubby and I are taking our annual vacation with a wide array of his relatives.  Normally I’m happy to hang with the large assortment of cool cousins and extended family, but right now there is a visiting herd of little kids running amok in the house.  It sounds like a pack of wild Indians out there (which probably isn’t so far from the truth), so I took this moment to hole up in my room and figuratively put pen to paper.

There was an interesting post on the writer’s blog Write to Done about writer’s block.  The brilliance of the post was in the different angle it took on this topic.  It viewed it not as “writer’s block,” but as a “log jam.”  The problem isn’t being blocked, but being so overwhelmed with ideas, thoughts, etc., that our brain jams up.  This was a real eye opener.  One, it made me feel better.  Two, it made perfect sense.  Instead of being an unproductive dolt, I’m really just too flush with ideas for my own good.  Recognizing the problem is halfway to a cure.  Looked at in the right light, it isn’t even really a problem.

This enlightening post came on the heels of a one-day workshop sponsored by the Adirondack Center for Writing.  It was on nature writing and was facilitated by the lovely Robin Zimmerer who published a book entirely about moss.  Seriously.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s important to keep an open mind about such things and to be willing to try new experiences.

A campground in Old Forge was the great setting for the workshop. It was more about the intuitive, warm and fuzzy aspect of writing, whereas I’m more of a nuts and bolts kind of gal.  Still, where I didn’t think I’d be able to write anything remotely decent and felt embarrassingly blocked, I surprised myself by coming out of the
writing exercises with interesting, decent stuff.  About moss.  Seriously.

The best part of the weekend was spending time with fellow writer Nancy Scarzello, a Ticonderoga herbalist and naturalist whom I had corresponded with briefly in the spring.  The Summer of the Broken Leg flew by and I unexpectedly received an email from her telling me about the ACW workshop and asking if I would like to share a rented cabin with her in Old Forge while attending the workshop.  It was the perfect little getaway and a tonic to my writer’s soul to spend time with such a kindred spirit. 

Sometimes you just need to let the natural currents break up that log jam.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Step by Step, Slowly I Turned...

It’s always darkest before the dawn. Actually, it’s always coldest before the dawn.

Metaphorically, I was freezing. I was tired of the cold. I was tired of those stupid crutches. Sick to death of them. Of hobbling around from place to place, of having to think of how I was going to navigate a certain area or place, of always having to take them into consideration.

I went into the barn. My deserted, dusty, cobwebby barn. I picked up the broom and tried to sweep the floor, the way I do in the kitchen, with one hand. But the barn broom is much heavier than the house broom, and that wasn’t going to work.

Screw this.

I have been so very afraid of hurting myself again. The physical pain of the initial accident and subsequent surgeries were very fresh in my mind. I didn’t want to undo all the healing I had done. I just had to try to put some pressure on my leg, snugly encased in my velcro boot. Dr. Rosas said for me to try to do what I was comfortable with. I told him 
Copyright Garry Larson
that a lot of my hesitation and fear was in my head, and without looking at me he furrowed his brow a bit when I said that. How could he not get that?

But now I had had enough. It was sink or swim time. I leaned my crutches against the gate. I balanced myself and gingerly put my left foot forward and rolled on it, heel to toe, as I brought my right foot forward.

It was okay. A little tweaky, but not bad. I took another step. In the quiet of my barn, surrounded by the shadows of all my former horse loves, I started really living again. Within the next ten minutes, I had swept the barn floor, moved the wheelbarrow and tidied things up. I had proven to myself that I could it.

I had shown myself that a little faith can go a long way.

Larry often tells me that he has faith in me. He recently said I have taught him the most about faith - not in the religious sense, but in the humanity sense. I learned about my own faith that day in my slightly scarred soul and badly scarred leg. I did it, taking that step back towards myself.

That was almost two weeks ago. I am now walking well (with the boot), although rough or uneven ground is still a challenge. I can get up and down stairs much better, and am able to walk at home without the boot, although they are smaller, mincing steps, but self-powered all the same. The first time I was able to carry my own coffee out of the kitchen, you would have thought I’d won the lottery. I played 9 holes of golf for the first time ever last weekend (with a cart), poorly, Larry and I had a blast. I mowed the grass by the chicken coop because I couldn’t stand it any longer. Now that was empowering! And the girls seemed happy to see me back there. Even if I made that up in my own mind, I’ll take away the feel-good.

Ya gotta have faith.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ghost in the Machine

I stood in the entrance of the barn, the air cool on my face. There was a thin layer of snow and ice on the cement floor; I was worried about slipping on my crutches. I hobbled into the barn and looked around. It looked like a haunted house - cobwebs in every
My subconscious sucks.
corner, darkness making it difficult to see, leaves and debris blown across the floor, the smell of old hay and brittle leather. Why was it so dark? It was empty of horses, but beyond that, it was... deserted, abandoned. The sadness felt like a weight on my chest.

The weight on my chest was the cat, staring at me, willing me to wake up and feed her.

Once I fell off Nifty, I didn’t lay eyes on her until the day her future owners came to check her out. I didn’t even head towards the barn until weeks after our remaining leased horse went home to Crown Point.

I don’t blame Nifty for my fall; in the beauty that is hindsight, I blame myself for not lunging her before I got on in the first place. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not; it doesn’t matter anymore. But I still feel betrayed in some way - by the horse, by myself, by my body for crumpling up in such a heap upon hitting the earth.

I'm still very on the fence about my future with horses. On one side it feels good to have the break from the twice-daily responsibilities. I certainly have more money in my checking account, which is a nice change. If Larry and I want to do something, we don’t have to take into consideration barnyard schedules. The chickens can fend for themselves until we get home.

Two weeks ago, I finally did gimp my way back to the barn. Uneven ground on crutches is, for lack of a better word, a BITCH. Standing in the doorway of the barn, I felt sucked into my very dream - to my surprise the barn floor was indeed covered in leaves, pine needles and dirt, the corners cobwebby and dark. In the tack room I ran my hand over my dusty saddle (it doesn’t take long for an inch of dirt to accumulate in a barn), knocked the cobwebs from my grooming tools and bulletin board with the horse calendar my grandmother gets me every Christmas.

People seem to be in two camps regarding my future with horses - there’s "Those damn things will kill ya, spend your time doing something else" and "You got back on the horse, right?" Personally, I feel both ways, depending on where I am at the moment. When I’m not around the barn, I feel like I can completely walk away from it all. No regrets. But when I’m in the barn, I miss the sounds and smells and grooming and cleaning tack. I miss the one-on-one with my animals. I enjoy being in the barn, caring for them, puttering around.

I’m sticking by my decision to take the winter "off." Not that it was much of a decision to be made - I can’t do anything and I couldn’t put all that work on Larry, which he handled the first 6 weeks after my accident. I’m the type of person who likes to make a decision, make a plan and BAM execute it. This indecision is making me crazy, and Larry’s been the witness of a meltdown or two (or three). But I can’t commit one way or the other yet. And as Larry keeps telling me, that’s okay. Despite my left brain wanting things all neat and orderly, it’s not something I have to decide right now.

Maybe it will come to me in a dream.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's Not Easy Being Green

The beginning of June usually marks the start of peak growth season. I had just put down an initial bed of mulch around my three front flower beds and the perennial bed I planted last year. And then I broke my leg and it rained and turned hot. Things grew. And grew.

Larry is the anti-lawnmower man. As in, he hates to mow. In the 10+ years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him use the lawnmower. It was part of his incentive to rototill the entire yard and plant wildflower seed when he first bought the house. It’s been successful in varying degrees. The front of the house has fared the best, with really beautiful growth, but last year the backyard bore more grasses and weeds than anything.

Regardless, I've always mowed my little paths through the jungle - across the front of the 
Front yard flowers - my perennial
bed is in there somewhere
house and around the gardens, which gave things some semblance of order and neatness. Last year I put paver stones around two of the front flower beds and erected little pioneer fences behind my perennial grasses and the new perennial flower bed.

But this year I've been stuck in a chair watching the grass grow. And the weeds grow. With no taming in sight. Larry had his hands full helping me out, taking care of everything house-wise and working. I didn’t have the heart to whine to him about the yard.  He enjoys his vegetable gardens; the rest of the yard, who cares?

This spring Larry bought a 4' brush hog attachment for the tractor for the back pastures. It sat next to the barn, waiting for its maiden voyage into the back 40.

As the yard grew exponentially with the rain and angst began to show on my face, Larry  
Stupid chicken! Get out
of my flower bed!
offered to mow around the house – with the brush hog.

I didn’t want to seem unappreciative. I didn’t want to discourage him. But I could not quite visualize how this would work. A 4’ brush hog really isn’t destined for footpaths around the house. It's not a finesse tool. I had visions of everything within a 50’ radius of the house being mascerated, with flower heads flying everywhere.

Larry hooked the brush hog up to the tractor and started it up. I heard him drive behind the house, put the brush hog in gear, and lumber along with the occasional hair-raising sounds of rocks being chiseled. The man was undaunted.

He came around the side of the house, by the garden. He got close to the fence, mowed the high vegetation there. But he never came around to the front of the house.

An hour later, the tractor went quiet and Larry appeared, sweaty and with little green bits of vegetation sticking to him. "Well," he said, "That was kinda like using a 20 pound sledge to hammer in a finishing nail."

Back garden

Minutes later, to my shock, I heard the lawnmower rev up, and he made a very quick pass across the front of the house. This weekend, he weed-whacked along the back garden fence, which was all but invisible behind tall grass. He spent hours weeding in his gardens, making the wonderful vegetables he grows suddenly stand out and shine.  I managed to get on my hands and knees Saturday and weeded three of the flower beds, which was very satisfying.

Front garden

Things are still a little rough and shaggy looking, but as Larry says, "Hey, it's the Adirondacks."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The View from the Porch

I’ve done a lot of porch sitting this year. Our house in Schroon Lake has a small but cozy screened-in porch, with barely enough room for four chairs and a mismatched table. Three of the chairs are original rattan pieces from our summer house in Lake George - long bleached like desert bones and slowly unraveling, but loved just the same. When you sit and are still, you learn a lot about your immediate surroundings.

Being in a forced sedentary position for most of June, I learned about my cats’ daily routine. When they aren’t sleeping or shedding or simultaneously sleeping and shedding, they are bringing small mammals, birds and amphibians into the house. One morning Augie came trotting into the driveway not once, not twice, but three times with two long legs dangling from her mouth - frogs snatched from the wetlands next door. No matter how loud you yell "NO!!!," if a cat knows you’re not getting up and coming after them, you will be ignored.

I access our second floor by going up and down on my butt, step by step. The stairs are steep and narrow - normal by 1890's building standards - and I don’t have the patience or skill to use the crutches on them. The other day as I was making my way up, I was suddenly face to face with a frog on a step. It looked at me with an expression of "pleasejustgetmeouttahere..."

But back to the porch. A pile of books on the floor has slowly sprouted next to my chair. An assortment of magazines, notebooks, writing implements and Nalgene bottles clutter the table. I’ve never been much for retail therapy, but I gleefully bought new cushions for the chairs to perk things up and cope with the impression left by my butt.

From my vantage point, I saw a large shadow cross the yard, and a blue heron landed on the top of the telephone pole in front of the house. It stood there for probably a full five minutes, checking out the landscape, a beautiful, graceful and tall bird. What a treat to see. We’ve also had a flush of woodpeckers this year. I’ve heard babies in nests and watched parents fuss and fluster with other birds who have gotten too close.

A species specific to Charley Hill Road are the annual Seagle Colony Joggers. Every year, a group of enthusiastic young folks attending the operatic summer stock down our road start off the season jogging past our house, usually just up to the top of the (quite steep) hill and then back down, waving frantically at the bugs swarming their heads. As the summer wears on, their numbers wear out to the last colonist standing. The best was the young man a few years ago who sang falsetto as he ran by - not an easy feat given the hill he was heading up.

I’ve also learned to identify the neighbors by the sound of their vehicles, before they come into view. It’s become a game between Larry and me as to who exactly is coming down the hill. I’ve definitely got an advantage.

Slowing down, watching and listening has been a lesson unto itself. I’ve enjoyed the meditative quality of it; I’ve used it to quiet my busy mind and let my body come to terms with being still for stretches of time. I used to think I stopped and smelled the roses a fair amount, but when you are plunked unceremoniously in the middle of the garden, things take on a whole new scent.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again

"Does it hurt when I do that?" Zach asked.

"No," I said.

"How about that?"

"Nope, it’s fine."

Larry and I are regulars now at OrthoNY in Malta. These are the fine folks who have slowly but surely been putting me back together. We’re now on a first name basis with a number of the staffers. Zach is the cast/dressing guru, a talented and friendly young guy with a "Jennifer" tattoo on his left forearm and studs in his ears. He wraps me back up at the end of every visit. We were psyched about putting a purple cast on at our last visit until Dr. Rosas burst our bubble and said we would stick with splints.

Post second surgery, 7/3

Broken bones, 6/5

 Lauren is the tech who was on duty the night Larry and I went there for Urgent Care, at the end of a very trying and painful day at the beginning of this odyssey. She saw me at my worst, and every time she sees me now she gushes over "how much better you look" and at my speed on the walker. She’s an amazing cheerleader. Emily and Ashley, resident PAs, do the preliminary check-outs and how’s-it-feelings and put their blissfully cold hands on the tops of my weirdly sensitive toes. Then The Man comes in, Dr. Rosas himself, always with a handshake for me and Larry, and we talk about where we’re at and where we go from here. Although I can’t imagine how busy this guy must be, he never seems rushed or preoccupied when meeting with us.

I can’t talk about OrthoNY with mentioning Salvatore Quattrochi, the, let's say, confident PA (doctor? I'm not sure, it's a bit of a blur) on duty the night we went to Urgent Care. It felt a bit like being treated by a character of The Sopranos. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him since then, but he feels like my angel in all this, as he calmed me down, assured me he was good at what he did and would help me, and the man delivered. I'm just glad I didn't throw up on him.  Larry and I will always be grateful to him for his help that night.

When I was at Saratoga Hospital for my second surgery, the two women in charge of prepping me for surgery were having a hard time getting my I.V. line in. I have notoriously shallow veins and they had sunk further into my body in protest of all the recent abuse they’d taken. I was starting to stress and tweak a little at that point and that made the techs feel even worse and more apologetic about the hard time they were having. So they called in the assistance of a doctor whose name I can’t recall, a young Ukranian woman with pencil-thin arched eyebrows and skillfully applied eyeliner. I understood maybe every fifth word she said, but she smiled and winked a lot and moved with an air of authority. She put a blood pressure cuff on my arm and cranked it up – and left it there. She then took a needle and grabbed my hand and said "VHAT is the problem, you haf BYOOTIFUL veins," and jabbed that sucker in in no uncertain terms while I involuntarily yelled in protest. But it was done.

In my room after surgery, as I was getting my bearings back, I started to experience lower abdominal pain the likes I’ve never experienced before. It turned out that, because of the spinal block I had for surgery, my bladder was full and beginning to spasm. All I knew was that I was in screaming agony, and suddenly there were (no exaggeration) 10 people filling my room, with carts and equipment, all ready to pounce on me depending on what my issue turned out to be. Morphine, please!! That and a catheter, and five minutes later all was right with the world.

Lots of people have done lots to help me. Yes, it’s their job, but I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude and appreciation for what they’ve done, and continue to do. Thank you, one and all.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Small Wins and Baby Steps

In the physical therapy room at Saratoga Hospital, they have various set-ups to show patients how to navigate the real world. There’s a four-step stairway with a landing for practicing going up and down correctly, which I spent a lot of time on. There’s also parallel bars, a play kitchen, a wide variety of scenarios. My favorite was the mock car, which consists of the front seats of a vehicle to practice getting in and out of. It raises and lowers on a hydraulic jack to best simulate your own vehicle. I kept telling the therapist to raise it; ultimately, it didn’t go as high as the seat in my truck.

For the past few days I’ve been conspiring how I could (safely) get in and out of the truck so I can get myself around. While my dear friend Anne Gregson has been more than gracious in bringing me in to and picking me up from work every day, she does have a life of her own. I felt it was time for me to get my act together.

The biggest hassle in getting out and about is getting up and down our porch stairs. Fortunately, there is a handrail on both sides; I have to use a crutch under my left arm to support myself going up and down. Down is much easier than up (isn’t is always). But the trick is, I leave the walker at the top of the stairs when I go down, then have to get it down to me at the bottom. And then reverse. I had to figure out how to do that. Yesterday it was time.

I put my walker on a leash. At the top of the stairs, I folded it up and slid it to the bottom, holding the cord so it didn’t take an unfortunate bounce out of reach. I then gimped down the stairs with my crutch, and had the walker right there to reopen. Going up was a little trickier. I discovered that I couldn’t just pull it up by the cord – the wheels caught on the steps. But if I folded it up and laid it on its front, then it would slide up the stairs without catching on anything. First phase solved.

Then came getting into the truck. It still sat exactly where Larry had left it the day he brought me out of the back where I’d fallen. Dried mud caked the tires. It was positioned on a slight slope that made the ground a little lower from the driver’s door than it would be when parked normally. That just gave me more incentive to get in the damn thing. I opened the door and it was like Big Blue was saying, "Well, hello! Where have you been?"

Fortunately, my right arm is my good arm, and the heave-ho handle was perfectly positioned. The seat was quite high because of the slope and I couldn’t quite pull myself that far up. I positioned the walker against the open door and braced my good foot lightly on one of the support bars. That gave just enough stability to get myself all the way up into the seat.

Once in the vehicle, I was thrilled to discover that not only did I have lots of room so the fixator pins wouldn’t whack anything, but it was easy to pull the walker up, fold it, and slide it past myself to set in the passenger side.

I turned the key. She roared to life. We pulled out of the driveway and went for a ride through town on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. I let the tears fall, unabashed, as I drove towards my new normal.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up - No, Seriously!!

In the epilogue of Stephen King’s On Writing, he tells about when he was hit by a van while walking along a Maine road in 1999. He describes how when he came to in the ditch, the first thing he noticed was the unnatural angle of his leg, and how he thought that just didn’t seem right.

When I bailed off my bucking horse two weeks ago, hoping for a landing in the bushes, I heard a distinct crack upon impact with the earth. I rocked up on my butt, legs in the air, and the first thing I noticed was the very unnatural angle of my left foot.

My first thought was, "I’m not going to be able to go to &^$#@# Colorado!!" as I was scheduled to leave in two days to visit my daughters. My second thought was, "I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much pain before in my life!"

They say your life can change in an instant, and I’ve certainly experienced that numerous times along the way; haven’t we all. But this accident was a serious game changer. I’m still processing the various lifestyle modifications that are on my horizon.

First off, let me say that I’m glad it wasn’t worse. Yes, a broken leg is a serious bummer, but I didn’t have a head injury (I was wearing my helmet) and Larry more or less knew where I was (he knew I had ridden out back and came looking for me with Nifty returned to the barn without me). Unfortunately, I had a horrible experience with Glens Falls Hospital which resulted in my not having surgery until a full three days after I broke the leg. Those were three days of hell which I have no desire to relive here.

The accident was on Monday; I had surgery Thursday and came home Saturday. One plate has already been inserted in my leg, and a fixator was put on at that time. This was necessary due to the lapse of time between accident and surgery. I will go in for a second 
Fixator post-surgery
surgery (hopefully next week) that will see the removal of the fixator and the insertion of a second plate.

I’m currently hobbling around with a walker. I also tore up my shoulder a bit so crutches are unstable. I get around pretty well, but it’s exhausting, and this fixator is a major pain in the butt. A cast will be welcome.

In a split second, I went from being able to take care of 80% of what needed to be done around the homestead to next to nothing. This is a very bitter pill to swallow, especially for someone as independent as I consider myself to be. Even the mundane tasks such as laundry, housecleaning (such as it is) and going to the dump are now next to impossible. But the bigger issue is taking care of animals twice a day. It’s put a huge burden on Larry, who already has his hands full with a day job that is more demanding than it has a right to be. Larry made the excellent point that he may make the money, but I put the majority of the time in around here.

We’ve had several heart-to-hearts about the horses and the options right now. I’m working at the law office a few hours each morning, which gets me out and keeps a handle on things. I’ve been blessed with friends and neighbors who continually help out with transportation, food and the lifting of spirits. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for everything people have done to help.

Larry and I each have our good days and our bad days as we navigate these temporarily tricky waters. He’s shouldering a lot and it can get heavy. I’m frustrated and trying hard not to be depressed. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have a good cry now and then. I think it’s healthy to get it out, otherwise it could back up and manifest in ways like throwing things across the room or eating my weight in ice cream.

Meanwhile, I continue the only way I know how – by forging ahead, revamping plans, laughing when I can and getting up yet again. At least my foot is now at the correct angle.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memories Are Made of This

If you want to experience a true slice of Americana, there are numerous things you can do. Among my personal favorites are go to a drive-in on a warm summer night, work in a truck stop (I think everyone should have to do this at some point in their lives) and go to a county fair. You can also go to a Memorial Day gathering.

Yesterday Larry and I attended the Memorial Day service here in Schroon Lake. Our town erected a lovely memorial wall a few years ago. It serves as a somber reminder and respectful dedication to those residents who have served their country.

It was a scene played out this weekend across the country, in towns large and small. The color guard, the gun salute, the playing of taps. But being in a small town, where you know so many people, gives it a special kind of intimacy.

A local bed and breakfast owner, who also hosts open mic nights at Witherbees, provided the sound system and stood at attention in his Ray Bans. A handsome young man in his uniform, who was part of the color guard, cringed and muttered to himself when he made a slight wrong turn with his flag during the ceremony. I heard a splash down by the waterfront and saw a dog swimming after a stick tossed in the lake. I looked at the backs of the Boy and Cub Scouts standing at attention, some of them sons of friends of ours. I watched my elderly veteran neighbor (who once told me, in all innocence, that her cat was named Obama because "he’s black and white, you know") shuffle assisted to the edge of the memorial to lay the wreath at its base. A young boy with a fishing pole walked down the sidewalk towards the docks. I recognized most of the people who spoke at the podium and enjoyed those who, as Larry observed, "weren’t afraid to not be P.C." I saw lots of folks I recognized from the law office - people who I’ve assisted with wills and deed transfers and various matters, all items entrusted to me by the office’s ethics of confidentiality. 

Communities like these are the backbone of this country. They care enough to support each other. They take part in ceremony for the things that are important to them.

After the conclusion and thank-yous for attending, the slightly somber mood was immediately lifted by the noise and bustle of kids cut loose and running in the grass, smiling faces and handshakes among friends, ice cream cravers heading over to Stewarts.

This is all part of what Memorial Day means. Time passes. In addition to those no longer with us, remember this simple, good stuff. It’s what lives are made up of.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zen and the Art of Raking (or how raking is like running a marathon)

Larry and I put several years of backbreaking labor into clearing land for pasture. Forest does not become field without a major fight. The first year, 2005, we cleared what we now call Pasture A. The following year was Pasture B, and the area that was cleared in subsequent years became half Pasture C and half Pasture I Don’t Give A Damn Anymore. Altogether, we cleared about 3 acres by hand (well, with a 1952 tractor and two chainsaws) and that was enough, thank you. It’s work for younger backs than ours.

It wasn’t enough that we were clearing forest; we were also fighting the fact that there is not a speck of flat ground to be found on our 30 acres. We also have rocks of every size, shape and depth into the ground. They don’t call them Charley Hill potatoes for nothing.

Slowly, the fields have improved as we continue cleaning and cultivating. A and B are looking pretty good at this point. C and the remaining areas are still in dire need of cleaning up, stump popping and rock rolling. Fortunately our newer 21st century tractor is well equipped to help us with that.

As idiotic as it sounds, experience has taught me that one of the best ways to improve your pasture is by raking it. Tedious, endless, blister-busting raking. I did this on the pastures at my parents’ house in Corinth. In the spring, you have a winter’s worth of manure you really have to rake up. Otherwise, your pasture just becomes a trashed plot of land that your horses will never enjoy and will look like crap (pun intended).

I’m not one of those summer-long, crazy rakers. I hit the grounds around the barn and the house once a year, in the spring once the mud dries up, with occasional touch ups.

In the pastures I’ve spot-raked to get the worst of the junk up, but this weekend I raked A in earnest - the entire thing. Raking can be a very zen activity. You have lots of time to think and reflect. I realized how a raking job like this is like running a marathon. Which I’ve never done. But given enough running friends and living in a town that hosts a major marathon every year, you start to think you can make analogies:

1. You start from the farthest point. You do this because your enthusiasm and energy level is high, and you know it’s going to be a long haul, so use some psychology on yourself.

2. The ideal weather is a little cool and cloudy. Yes, it’s the beautiful sunny weather that gets you outside, but once you realize how sunburnt you’ve become and how far from water you are, you pray for some cloud cover.

3. Your feet start to hurt. But you focus on the butt muscles you’re working out, especially when pushing the wheelbarrow uphill. (Okay, you’re not pushing a wheelbarrow in a marathon, unless you’re in a seriously hicksville foot race.)

4. It becomes self-competitive. "I could quit here, but I have to do just a little more, go just a little farther..."

5. You hit that rakers/runners high. "I’m in the zone! What blisters? Look how far I’ve gone! I’m not stopping until I hit that finish line!"

And the finish line is oh-so-sweet!




Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reality Smackdown (Or Leaping Before You Look)

The day after my excited post about hawking my cheese at the Schroon Lake Opening Weekend, the walls of reality came crashing down.

I discovered that I can’t sell my product to the public unless it comes from a licensed and inspected facility, i.e. a kitchen that passes NYS Dept. of Health and NYS Ag & Markets criteria. I’m sure NYS would be less than impressed with the officialness of my kitchen.

This is what happens when I let my enthusiasm race me down the road without taking the time to adjust my mirrors.

I suppose the fact that two folks who were kind enough to give me a gallon of raw milk to play with said, several times, "I can’t sell it to you, but I can give it to you," should have been a tip off. I was dipping my toes in NYS’s shark infested waters.

Yesterday I read up on the regulations and requirements online for a bit. When my head felt ready to explode, I reached out to Essex Co. Cornell Cooperative Extension for some information in laymans terms. When I asked if I was taking a chance of being arrested at Opening Weekend, I was jokingly told I was at risk of being put in handcuffs and chains and put in the stocks in town square. I told her I wouldn’t tell Larry about that, because he might actually volunteer for it.

In the end, a helpful representative from Adirondack Harvest confirmed what I was interpreting - I can make cheese for home use and personal consumption, but to sell anywhere, I need to be licensed. I’d have to have or use a commercial kitchen for my production. Ultimately, I withdrew my application for the weekend.

I do have options. I could produce it at someone’s licensed kitchen, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of my doing it at home, when I have time. I’m not really into having to go somewhere and losing more time from home. Depending on what type of cheese you’re making, this could involve a lot of back and forth. Quite frankly, I’m not really into that.

And that’s okay. My friends and family will continue to be the beneficiaries of my home kitchen-based experiments. We’ll keep cheese production as part of The 30 Acre Wood’s business plan, and make it an aspiration for down the road. Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying different types of cheese and perfect my craft, as it were. I’m keeping it fun, which is what it’s all about!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Taking the Plunge

I filled out the application. I scanned it to my email. I wrote the email to Shelby Davis of Mr. P’s Mountain Smokehouse. I thought about it one more time, looked over the edge, and hit send. That was it. The point of no return.

The 30 Acre Wood has officially become a vendor for Schroon Lake’s 2013 Opening Weekend festivities, where I will be selling my homestead soft cheeses. I’m scared to death.

They say if you wait to be ready for something, you’ll never do it. I’d been debating whether to do a booth for the weekend after Shelby tossed me the idea.

My guest post on The Social Silo garnered more attention that I had planned on. People started talking about it. The post directed people to my blog, and the next thing I knew I received email from Shelby asking to profile my cheesiness on the Schroon Laker blog. The small town network is alive and well around here.

My knee-jerk response was "I’m really not newsworthy." Now, let’s think about this a minute. I want people to be interested in and buy my product, yet I’m afraid to let people know about it.  That makes a whole lot of sense.

Our new logo, courtesy of ubertalented daughter Jessica Jones

I approached my coworker, Donna Moses, about sharing a tent with me. She makes amazing crafts and figured if we split a tent, then neither one of us has to make a huge amount of product to have a nice display. It was a good way of taking some of the pressure off myself. Then Donna decided not to participate due to numerous family obligations. Totally understandable, but I did tell her that if I have a total cheese-related freak-out going into this, I’m holding her responsible.

So that leaves me and my half-dozen or so variations of soft cheeses all alone in the spotlight. Or at least in the tent.

Fromage draining
this morning
I’m still experimenting and trying to perfect (to the degree that you can) my cheeses. My first mozzarella/pesto log turned into a watery, gooey mess on the first try, but that’s where troubleshooting comes in. I’m trying different flavors for fromage blanc, which has winners and losers. Larry loves them all, so he’s a poor tester, although he’s good for my ego. Friends have been getting samples with "Tell me what you honestly think" attached to them.

If you don’t leap at some point, you never get anywhere. You stand on the end of the diving board forever, with your toes gripping the edge until they cramp. I dove off my board. I emailed Shelby my application. Needless to say, I receive a very enthusiastic response from her.

Had I not pushed myself to do this, I don’t know what I would have waited for before I went "public." A bona fide production kitchen? A cheese cave? Kudos and atta-girls from those nearest and dearest? That’s stupid. Time’s a wastin’, as June and Johnny would say. If I’m not going to have fun with it, what’s the point? And fun is getting out there with my coolers and containers and samples and chatting it up with folks on a beautiful spring weekend.

Now I have to get cooking!  See you in the park on May 25!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Fifth Season

Someone came up to me the other day and said, "I didn’t recognize your truck in the parking lot. It was so dirty." That’s a tell-tale sign of mud season.

Ah yes, mud season, otherwise known as The Fifth Season, the precursor to spring. That long-awaited time of the year when the robins come back.  And I don’t bother cleaning floors.  Really, it’s like shoveling before the snowstorm ends - what’s the point?

Larry can get up the driveway in his front wheel drive Jetta, but the truck bogs down and I need four wheel drive to get off the road. Either that, or I back up in our neighbor's driveway and get a running start, shooting across Charley Hill Road, hopefully with enough momentum to get me to higher, drier ground.  Going through the turnaround becomes extra exciting, because sliding a foot or so in either direction is going to smack off a side-view mirror.

It also makes for squishy paths to the barn, and once the dirt bared itself, the chickens began to dig and churn and revel in its earthy glory. The horses came off Pasture A, reluctantly and unhappily, as now it has to be protected from their sharp hooves and allowed to grow unhampered. The rest of their area, aptly named the "sacrifice" area, now becomes a mud pit of its own until things dry up. I rotate feeding locations to try and minimize the damage.

Tis the season for old houses like ours to be catheterized. The sump pump is an important part of its long-term care. One spring when we had an ice storm and the power was knocked out, I came home and looked down the cellar stairs, to see kitty litter boxes floating like sand-filled pirate ships in a foot of water.

Mother Nature has been fickle this spring. This morning the sky was bright blue and a warm breeze caressed my face. It is now raw and raining, on the verge of sleeting - again.

It can be hard to stay chipper in weather like this - spring seems so close, yet so far. But yesterday I took a moment to look around the yard - the front garden soil looks black and rich. The perennial bed that I planted last year looks ready to pop as soon as it feels a few days of successive warmth. When I brush a horse, there’s a pony’s worth of hair on the ground at the end (note to self: do NOT wear Chapstik in the barn).    Hardy souls like crocuses and lilies are starting to push through the ground.

And the robins? They’re braving the rain and sleet. They know warmer weather’s just around the corner. And clean floors are way overrated. 

Coming soon to a yard near you!



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Great Expectations

Each year, shortly after New Years, Larry and I write up a list of what we want to accomplish on the homestead in the coming year.  They have taken many forms over the years - from formal typewritten lists to something scratched out on a napkin in Flanagans.  The new list gets pinned to the kitchen bulletin board on top of the prior years' lists.  A planner at heart, I love seeing hopeful To Dos in writing, and at the end of the year when we scratch off our accomplishments, well, it doesn't get better than that.

Is he sticking his tongue
out at us?
Our homestead goals range from practical (fix cellar doors, paint upstairs hallway) to optimistic (get riding ring done, get horse trailer).  Some are carried over from year to year to year (Larry's "get a deer this hunting season").  But they do happen (I have faith in my husband), and seeing past accomplishments helps us keep our eye on next year's prizes.

The past couple of years we have been selling eggs and getting more out of our garden.  Ever the entrepreneur, I'm trying to find ways of generating a little income from the homestead.  Larry's been encouraging this plan all along, but I've been poo-pooing it due to lack of time, lack of knowledge, lack of fill-in-the-blank.  But getting involved with the Farm Bureau, and getting to know other people who are making things happen, has been a steady source of encouragement. 

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a small farm business plan workshop sponsored by Saratoga County Cornell Cooperative Extension.  Well, talk about lighting a fire under my butt!  Not only
was it an education learning how to tailor a business plan to a small farming enterprise, it was cool meeting and talking with other people doing similar things.   Although everyone's business had a slightly different focus, our goals were all the same - to establish/expand what we've got to make it better, and make it a viable business.  There's nothing like being in a room with like-minded individuals to get you inspired.

I have been working out my business plan since then, and in mapping it out in my mind and on paper, I've seen some areas that, theoretically, should work better than others.  There's nothing like the nitty-gritty of actual numbers to see if something is realistic or not.  Layers will take a little time to turn a profit, where broilers are a relatively quick turnaround.  I've been amazed at the response I've gotten from people interested in my soft cheeses, and I think there would be a market for my onion braids. 

I can dream, can't I?

In following our business plan guru's suggestions, I applied for our DBA and opened a separate checking account for The 30 Acre Wood.  Larry and I are mapping out an expansion of the chicken  coop for a new batch of chicks.  I'm hoping the weather gods cooperate and we have a good garden this year.  We'll start small, see what works and what doesn't, see what people want, and see what happens.   

We're looking forward to crossing more off our list at the end of 2013, including "get a deer this hunting season."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Somtimes it takes a village... and a tractor... and a trailer... and a big truck...

Few things are as satisfying as a win/win. This weekend Larry and I were able to help out some neighbors, improve our sugarbush stand, and get some good exercise. I suppose that makes it a win/win/win.

A couple of weeks ago, John and Jennifer Otruba of Sugarbush Farm here in Schroon Lake suffered a devastating barn fire. They lost a number of their animals in the blaze. The Otrubas are a local success story in how they have turned their little valley farm into a successful CSA, growing beyond their expectations. They are also the parents of a herd of four little girls. Their homestead is one of happy chaos. In short, they are crazy people.

Their fire has brought the community together, which is culminating in what is turning into a huge potluck for their benefit next week. In the meantime, people are helping out with animal feed and other items. Larry decided we could best help by providing them with dimensional lumber for their rebuilding effort.

The Man at work
We have a sugarbush stand (or at least, that’s what Larry’s calling it) that has many struggling maple saplings trying to reach the sun. Larry envisions this as his future maple syrup production stand. In this plot are a number of very tall, very large pine trees. We have thinned the area out a little over the years, but the Otrubas gave us the perfect excuse to drop the biggest of the pines to have milled into lumber. The plan was to drop the pines, cut them into 12 foot lengths, then bring the lengths to Joe Delczeg’s sawmill in Riparius to be cut.

Down it goes!
It was one of those projects where the gods smile on you a little. The weather was great. The equipment all worked (for the most part). Larry dropped four pines which we limbed and cut into lengths. These were not small trees. They shook the ground and spooked all the animals when they fell. Then there was the challenge of skidding them out (around other trees) and staging them to load on the trailer.

The tractor did well serving as a skidder, and those logs that were too much for its little John Deere heart fell to the truck. As Larry and I like to say at times like these, "That what we got it for." Four wheel drive low it went, and eventually we got the biggest of the bad boys out. While the warm weather was nice, it made for increasingly slippery conditions. Traction was sometimes a problem, but ultimately we got the job done.

That's a whole lotta tree
Then came loading these monsters on the trailer. Larry did an awesome job maneuvering the logs via chains attached to the bucket. He would lift an end of a log onto the edge of the trailer, then get behind it and push it with the bucket up onto the trailer. We learned with the biggest logs that I had to stay in the truck with my foot on the brake so he didn’t push the whole show out into the road! Doing all of this took time, finesse, and patience. Rolling logs with peavies is hard, but sometimes that was what we had to do to get them into position to pull out. At one point Larry said to me, "This part will be easy," to which I replied, "Don’t use the "E" word with me."

Larry doing his tractor magic

Joe makes quick work of our load job

We took one load to Riparius Saturday, where Joe unloaded them to cut. Going down the road, I watched the trailer tires from my side view mirror, as they flattened out a little from the weight of the logs and every bump on the road seemed to squish them down a little more. It was a lot of weight! The last thing we needed was a flat.

Sunday, with all of the cutting done, it was easier getting the logs on the trailer by Larry lifting a log and me backing the trailer under it. I had an awesome day backing that trailer up! I had to get it into some tight areas but managed to pull it off. Sunday around noon we brought a second load to Riparius, and to our amazement Joe had already cut up the first load. He said he could have the second load done in a few hours if we wanted to pick it up later that day!

The finished product
That was perfect. We went back in the afternoon and voila! From all those trees came ninety-two twelve foot 2 x 6 boards. They are green but will season fairly quickly, and since they are for framing, they should serve their purpose just fine.

We brought the boards directly to Otrubas, where we unhitched the trailer to leave for them to handle the wood at their convenience. As we were unhitching the trailer, I heard "sssssssssssssss" and sure enough, a tire on the trailer was going down before my eyes. At that point we didn’t even care - we were just grateful it didn’t blow out going down Route 8 with thousands of pounds of trees on it!

The perfect weekend was topped by my friend Judy making us dinner Sunday night, which we ate covered in pine sap, sawdust and grime. We appreciated it more than we could say.

They say people volunteer not just to help out other people or organizations, but also because it makes them feel good. To be honest, I’d have to say that applies to this weekend. It was a help to us to get the pine down, and we were delighted to be able to help the Otrubas by doing so. But it also felt good to put the work and time into the project, to have received help in the way of a quick turnaround from the sawmill and a dinner we didn’t have to worry about cooking, and for Larry and I to remind ourselves of how well we work together as a team. It was a lot of physical exertion, but we also laughed a lot and appreciated how hard each other worked. That may be the biggest feel-good of all.