Friday, October 30, 2009

A Witch's Brew Tale

Every year my community holds a Halloween Party in our Community Building.  It's great fun for kids of all ages.  There are prizes for kids costumes, and a Halloween Treat Decorating contest.  I always wanted to enter something in the Treat Decorating Contest, but inevitably something always came up, or I got busy, or I just never got around to it.  Well last year was my year.

I baked up a batch of sweet little Kitty Cat Cookies, and whipped up a Witch's Brew Punch.  Instead of serving it in a plain old punch bowl and cups, I used a pumpkin and mini pumpkin gourds.  I carved out a pumpkin and put my brew in it!  I was going for best decorated here, and I really wanted to win!  I also carved out a few mini pumpkin gourds and painted "blood" drooling from the top where I cut the tops off.  I completed the look with spooky black gauze, some festive fall leaves, spiders, bats, and a snake (all fake of course!).  But the one thing that I thought would really put me over the top, and hopefully sway the judges, was the dry ice I added to my Brew!  I would have added a bright red glow-stick as well (for an eerie red glow!) , but I knew the lighting at the party would be too bright for it to be effective.  Anyway, I was just sure my creativity would give me the win!  Ha!!! it turns out, I did win.  It was a win by default.  You see, I won because I was the only entrant in the contest!!!  Who would've guessed?!  A little competition would have made it more satisfying, but none the less it counts as a win in my book.  ;)

Here's my first place win in the 2008 Halloween Treat Decorating Contest...

Witch's Brew:
1 32oz Fruit Juicy Hawaiian Punch
1 2-liter 7-up
1 pint of sherbet  -  your choice of flavor
1 fairly large pumpkin (the round kind - not the tall variety)

It's nothing fancy, just your basic traditional party punch; just combine everything in your pumpkin and very carefully add some dry ice.  Yes!  The punch is perfectly safe to drink even though there is dry ice in long as the dry ice stays in the pumpkin.  When dry ice melts, it produces a gas (the steam).  It is not safe to allow dry ice to touch any part of your body, especially your mouth!!  Just keep it in the pumpkin and enjoy the swirls of steam in there.  Adult supervision is definitely needed if little ones are around.  Just to be sure nobody got hurt, I stayed with my display for the duration of the event.

Kitty Cat Cookies:
1 bag of skinny pretzel sticks
1 bag of mini M&Ms
1 bag walnut halves

Make your favorite full batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Immediately after removing the cookies from the oven, decorate each cookie with 4 skinny pretzel sticks for whiskers, 2 walnut halves for ears, a red mini M&M nose, and 2 green mini M&M eyes.  These cookies won't stack well at all, but the cute factor makes it worth while!

I cut out pumpkins from waxed paper to place the Kitty Cat Cookies on.  I didn't think they'd be too appetizing just sitting there on that gauzy fabric!  The guests were so polite, everybody made sure that it was ok before they took a cookie!  Well, of course it was ok!  And once it was clear that it was ok, the Kitty Cat Cookies did a major disappearing act!  I think I only brought a couple home (I held them back so my guys could have a couple later).  I originally started out with a batch of 60 or so.

My pumpkin gourd cups were just for looks.  In order to actually use them, the insides of the gourds would have needed a coating of paraffin just to be safe.  I served up the punch in good old fashioned solo cups (orange of course!).  The pumpkin punch bowl was not coated, but I did scrape out every piece of string, goo and seed.  I rinsed it several times to make sure nobody had a  "chunky" Brew! 

The kids were so cute!  There were so many adorable costumes (most of them were home made), I don't know how the judges made any decisions.  The Association had a photographer set up in a corner with bales of straw and pumpkins.  The grand prize Kids Costume Contest winner was a little guy who was made up to be a fireman.  He was walking around with a firetruck made from a cardboard box that night (steering wheel, bell and all!).  His cardboard firetruck was held up by suspenders over his shoulders.  It was really well designed, and he was so shy and cute!  Everybody had a good time, went home with candy, and had their bellies filled with Halloween goodies.

Have a very safe and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's a Wrap...Almost

Where did summer go?!  It seems as though it was just getting started.  Fall is definitely here to stay with its crispy air.  Most of my gardens have been nipped into dormancy, and are waiting for me to properly settle them into hibernation.  I always have mixed emotions about fall.  I adore the colors and the smell in the air.  Yet I am saddened to think that for the next 6 months everything will be just so...naked.  But for now there are glorious displays of golds, oranges and bright reds waiting to be noticed around every new turn.

I took this picture of a Marmo maple (Acer freemanii) on November 11, 2008

And this one on October 27, 2009 of the same tree.  It's kind of hard to tell the difference!

My beautiful Japanese Whitespire Birch (Betula platyphylla japonica) in a riot of bright gold.  I took this on October 21, 2009 just before it started raining.  (Sorry about the blurring on some of the branches, it was quite windy when I took this!) It rained for 3 straight days and nights, with even more wind.  The show's over now for this tree, or rather it's been relocated, as 99% of its leaves are now scattered across my lawn.  It makes such a pretty carpet!

The Bidens (Bidens ferulifolia), and Lobelias (Lobelia erinus) are still holding their own.  Even though they've stopped producing new blooms, the foliage and existing blooms are still looking pretty fresh.

I've also got a few cute little Callie Rose (Calibrachoa) blooms hanging on.

I just happened to look down at the rocks along the edge of one of my flower beds as I was walking my yard.  It was just too perfect not to photograph; all of the colors were arranged better than I could have done myself!

My Crimson Pygmy Barberry (Barberis thunbergii'Atropurpurea nana') has begun to prepare for winter too.

I found this leaf stuck to one of my benches and thought it had a very interesting pattern.  Sort of makes you think of camouflage doesn't it?

And my snapdragons are among the season finalists every year.  I have no idea what variety they are, they didn't have any plant tags when I purchased them.  :(

They're so pretty, I just don't have the heart to cut them down.  They're really much brighter in person.  The blooms are so deep and bright that they almost hurt your eyes to look at them in the sun.  I've really had amazing luck with these guys.  This snapdragon basket was drowned nearly to death when we had flooding this past June.  The entire basket went completely limp within a few hours.  I brought it into my garage hoping that it would perk up.  Whenever the weather was dry, I optimistically set it back outside again.  Nothing doing, it stayed limp, the soil stayed soaked, and eventually the leaves got crispy, but stayed green.  I set it back outside again after a month, thinking that it was a goner.  It rained again (of course!), and you'll never believe it.  In a couple of days there were all of these miraculous, tiny leaf sets popping up all over the stems!  (I really wish I knew what variety they are!)  I cut away the stems that didn't show any new growth, and found that I had lost half of my basket.  The remaining half filled in so nicely, and the new growth was just as gorgeous as the original!  Snapdragons truly should be called a resurrection plant.  I am planning to clip the spent blooms from this plant once they freeze, and dry them out.  Next spring I'll plant them in hopes that these seeds will give me beautiful color for another year.  Cross your fingers for me...


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Unplanned Excursion

Sometimes just when you aren't planning to go anywhere, you find yourself aboard a jet heading out of town.  One of my brothers suffered a heart attack while vacationing with his wife in Florida.  They were visiting their daughter, and we thank God that they were there.  He didn't have just any old heart attack.  No.  He went all-out and had himself a ventricular tachycardia.  That's a bad one, and I learned that only 5% of the people who suffer this actually survive!  My SIL used to be a nurse, and my niece is a physician.  The only better place my brother could have been when it struck him, would have been the ER.  They literally saved his life.  Well, after just over a week, and a few bumps along the way, everything's just fine now and he's even been released from the hospital.  He's a real trooper, and has gone above and beyond what his medical team has asked of him.  I don't know which guardian angel watches over him, but he's got a good one!

I want to add that my brother is in excellent physical condition, eats very sensibly, and runs between 7 and 11 miles every day.  He has just had a complete physical and during that visit, his doctor told him that he was in such good condition that he did not need a stress test.  He was planning to enter a half-marathon in the next few weeks, and wanted to be completely checked out prior to running.  It looks as though he'll need to put that off for a little while.  Although one of the attending physicians did say that he should be able to begin running again in the next month or two. (!!!!!)  I think he needs to get a really good pair of running shoes for his guardian angel before he does anything like this.

I didn't take many photos while I was there.  Our time was spent at either my niece's house or the hospital, but I did see a couple of things that caught my eye while while I was there.  My mother and I flew to a location about a hundred miles from my niece's.  Sometimes airlines don't offer good flight times (or rates!) for smaller cities.  We rented a car and drove the rest of the way.

Along the way I spotted this vintage gas station sign that had a couple of gas pumps by it.  I wonder how much gas cost on the day these pumps were last used...

And then just past the pumps there was a Navy jet mounted on a pedestal.  I didn't look at the plaque, but I wish I had.  (We were in a hurry to get to the hospital.)  At first I thought that object under the wing was artillery of some sort, but learned that it's a fuel pod.

Till next time...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Local Pieces of Americana

Been thinking about the farm quite a bit lately.  I guess it's because it's harvest time.  I don't know why, but I always liked the smell of fall.  There is a certain scent around a field when the corn is being picked that I can't really explain.  And I like it!

All of this thinking caused me to get out my pictures for a good looking-over.  So I thought that as long as I have them already out, I'd share some of them with you.  There are so many things about that little corner of the world that are endearing.

If you drive through town too fast (and most out-of-towners tend to), you won't get to see what may be the biggest oak tree in the entire state.  We've often wondered how old it is.  Taking into consideration the slow growth rate of oaks, our best guess is that it must be over a hundred years.  This oak is so big, that it took me, my son, my mother, and my father to encircle its trunk!!!  I swear one of these days I'm going to bring a tape measure.  Just for reference: my son is 5'10.

Each one of its limbs (and there are many!) are big enough to make a large tree all by themselves.  It's truly a beautiful tree, and I'm very pleased that it is quite healthy.  I've tried for years to figure out an angle where I can actually fit the whole tree into my picture.  Here's the view from underneath...or at least as much of the oak as I could fit in my lens.

If you travel a little ways out of town, you'll come to this cozy little town with a population of....2.  Yep, that's not a typo.  There are 2 people in town.  And this is a place I make sure to visit every time I'm Down Home.  Wouldn't miss it.  You see, this little town is called Moonshine.  And if you're ever in the Moonshine vicinity, I would very highly recommend that you stop by the Moonshine Store.  Now, I know what you're far as I know, the strongest drink they serve is Birch Beer (Mmm!)  It's a cousin to root beer, without the hops, barley or malt.

Moonshine has THE BEST hamburgers in the world!  If you do get there, you might want to be on time.  Helen closes up her grill promptly at 12:30pm.  They only serve grilled food for an hour and a half Mon through Sat.  The last time we were there, they served up over 1,000 hamburgers.  Think about that for just a minute....Over. One. Thousand. Hamburgers. In. 90. Minutes.  Absolutely astounding.  They do serve several items on their menu, but that was the total for just the hamburgers served.  And they're priced right; 3 burgers, 3 bags of chips and 3 bottles of pop for $16.00.

Several miles to the north, you'll find another small town that offers a business with an unusual way of advertising...and I might add that it's really big.

There's a dirt track nearby...lots of fun, where the boys (and sometimes the girls!) are guaranteed to give you your money's worth!

I guess these things are just slices of Americana.  Things that we've all driven by in passing.  I try to take in all of these little things, and whenever I can, I take the old State Routes instead of the Interstates.  Yeah, it takes longer, but you get to enjoy more of our country.  And if you take a little extra time, you'll definitely get to meet some genuine characters along your way!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Getting the Bugs Out!

It's that time of year when I'm harvesting tons of food from my veggie garden. Every year we end up with an absolute flock (swarm?) of fruit flies too! Now I'm sure they only want to get in on some of the good stuff while they can. They also seem to have a high level of fascination with the human eye! What's up with that?! So when our indoor fruit fly population gets to be too high I set a little trap for them. We tend to have quite a bit of fruit and veggies around all year, so the fruit flies are inevitable!

This trapping method is the best thing! I won't use pesticides inside my house, so this is the perfect way to control them without resorting to chemicals. Best of all, the items you need are already in your house!


Here's what you need:

1 glass (clear is best so you can keep an eye on everything)
1 sandwich baggie (or a small piece of plastic wrap)
1 rubber band
1 toothpick
approximately 1 - 2 inches of fresh fruit in your glass (pineapple is the best, but most any other fruit will work well too)

You'll add the fruit to your glass, and then cover the top with the plastic. Stretch the plastic to fit tight like a drum, and use the rubber band to keep it in place. Poke little holes with the toothpick all around the top of the plastic. Make sure you keep the plastic tightly stretched after you're done poking the holes.  Those little buggers can go in, but aren't clever enough to actually figure out how to get out!


Just set your trap someplace in your house where you tend to see fruit flies.  Don't worry, they'll find it! When you have several trapped, you can return them to the wild, or dispose of them in whatever way you see fit. You can easily re-set the plastic on top of your glass. In a few days, you won't have any of those pesty little fruit flies left! Works every time!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fun With Suds

I recently made a batch of home made laundry soap, and I just looove the way it smells. It's very evocative of citronella.  A really fresh scent.  The last time I made it, my neighbor joined me and we went "halves" on everything, including the whole manufacturing process. Her daughter came along and helped with the grating (and let me tell you, that's a real help!). I didn't think to take any pictures during all of this, but I did take one of the finished product.

It's crazy-easy to make, your laundry smells so fresh (without all of the heavy perfumes), and best of all it's really inexpensive. It's the perfect thing to use if you have a front-loading machine because it's non-sudsing. And it's perfectly safe for septic systems.

The first time I made a batch (over 25 years ago, omigosh!), I really had no idea what to expect. It smelled good, and it looked like soap should, but I wasn't sure it would actually clean anything because it wasn't sudsing up in the washer. Well, I've come to learn that the suds aren't what actually cleans your laundry. I took a really good look at the water in the washer on that first load, and I couldn't believe my eyes! The water was so cloudy and tan in color that I couldn't tell that I even had any clothes in it!  Now, you may be thinking that our clothes must have been really dirty. I would say just average, nothing too bad.  Well, when I took everything out of the washer, it all looked very clean. I believe this soap removes all of the built up detergents, softeners and other things that built up over time.  And the clothes smelled just so fresh!  I've been sold since that day.

Here's my recipe:


12 cups Borax *  (20 Mule Team)

8 cups Baking Soda  (any brand is just fine)

8 cups Washing Soda  (I use Arm & Hammer)

8 cups Bar Soap - finely grated **  (measured before grating: 8 cups = 64 oz)

OPTIONAL:  8 cups Powdered Oxy type cleaner ***  ($1 stores carry an off-brand that works just as well as the big name brand) 

*You may adjust the Borax according to the hardness of your water. (ie, the harder your water, the more Borax you'll add).

**I use Zote (the pink one), because I really like the scent, but you may also use Fels Naptha or Ivory. Don't use any type of deodorant soap or your clothing (and washer) will end up with a terrible film.

***I started using this in occasional batches about 15 years ago to boost the soap when there are extra dirty clothes to wash.  It's not a required ingredient for the soap recipe, just an option.

First, (and I cannot stress this enough!) slice the bar soap in 1/2" slices and allow to air dry for a day or two, you might want to occasionally turn the slices over during this time.  It's a really moist soap and won't grate finely, it will want to clump instead.  Once you think it's dry enough, place several sliced pieces of bar soap at a time in a food processor and finely grate until it's all grated.  If it's grated too large, it will not dissolve well in your washer.  Just for reference...your grated soap should be much finer than mine is in the picture!

Mix all ingredients in a sturdy bucket (I use a 5 gallon paint-stirring stick to mix).  Make sure to get it thoroughly blended.

That's it.  I use 2 tablespoons (or 1/8 cup if you'd rather measure with a cup) per load.

I wash everything in cold water, so I pre-melt my 2T of soap in 1 cup of water in a mason jar in my microwave.  Especially with this last batch I have!  LOL  (you may have noticed the really large pieces of pink Zote in my picture?)  Just be sure to keep your eye on your melting soap as the microwave tends to cause it to foam up, and from experience I can tell you that it will overflow rather quickly!  I use a whisk to stir the soap during the melting process; it blends it better than a spoon.

I tend to keep a few batches pre-melted so I can just start doing laundry any time I want to.  I store my pre-melted soap right in the mason jars.  The melted soap may become semi-solid, but don't worry!  Anybody who's ever had the pleasure of doing "science experiments" with their kids will know that Borax does some strange things!  All you need to do is shake the jar for a few seconds and your soap will become a liquid again.  You can always zap it for a few seconds in the microwave if you'd like.

I like to add the soap to the water as the machine is filling, and allow it to completely fill before adding my clothes...just to be sure it's dissolved in my hard water. 

This batch will make quite a large amount.  I store my Powdered Laundry Soap in a plastic tub that originally held 35 pounds of cat litter.  It's heavy duty, has a lid and a metal bail, perfect for laundry soap!

PS.  The overall cost for this last batch was 6¢ per load (1 load = 2 tablespoons)! 

Have fun and let me know if you try this.