Browsing Archives for July 2009

Last week, I took a break from blogging to get a few projects done around my house. I re-painted the center hall and created a family photo wall.  I tied up a few loose ends for our upcoming vacation, and believe it or not I found enough left-over strength to pickle a huge batch of my own home-grown cucumbers.

When I had finished all my projects, I promptly  fell into bed with a stack of movies and a bag of bite-sized snicker bars and then I weakly called out to my children to fetch their poor sick mama a nice hot cup of tea!   For some reason, my children were unable to hear my calls for liquid nourishment which was funny, because I could hear their blood curdling screams as they wrestled in the living room, hurled sharp pointed objects at each other and poked each other’s eyes out, perfectly fine.




But enough about me and my recovery process.

Let’s talk about making pickles!

Drew helped me to make them.





While he sliced and diced, I made a batch of pickle juice according to a recipe I found in a Ball Canning Recipe Book.






I made my own mesh bag for the pickling spices with some cheese cloth and twine. This small act of ingenuity was enough to make me feel like a useful, contributing human being for weeks.





I set up an assembly line… cukes, simmering pickle juice, canner with boiling water, and lids in a seperate pan of simmering water.





In the meantime, Drew filled the jars with cucumbers…





Both sliced and whole.





He took a few photos for me.






We poured the pickle juice into the jars, placed the lids on, and them set them in a boiling canner for 15 minutes just like the directions stated.






Nine quarts and two pints later, we were finished. 

I have never felt so satisfied with a project in my life.  This is real food people!  Grown from my own garden!  And it has been preserved to feed my family during the lean winter months when the blizzards blow under the flimsy door of our little dugout, and we cain’t git to town to buy any supplies!





The Ball Canning Book recommended that we test the lids on the jars after a few days to make sure they were sealed.

While we were at it, we decided to go ahead and sample our pickles…






Drew fished one out of the jar.

It was not exactly firm..

In fact, it had the consistency of gelatin…

Soggy gelatin…

Soggy sour gelatin…





He gave the wobbly pickle a try…





This is not just a response to the typical sourness of a dill pickle…






This is a full fledged gag reflex…






The pickles are terrible.


The whole pickles we canned are limpid tributes to culinary horror and the sliced pickes are sour mush bombs.

We threw them all in the compost pile.

I aim to try again, but it is going to be a while until I am strong enough.

A long while…

This winter might be extra hard without a batch of pickles to get us through… but then again, if we had been forced to eat those awful blobs of vinegar gone wrong, we surely would have died from acute gastric depression.

Inga's Garden

July 21st, 2009

This garden project of mine would never have happened if Cynthia had not sent me an article and a photograph of a ‘colonial garden’ and mentioned that it would look perfect with my house. I may have planted a garden without Cynthia’s email and the accompanying article, but I don’t think I would have gotten as much enjoyment out of it. I always work better if I have a pretty picture in my head and a creative framework to propel me forward.

A few weeks after I posted some photos of our own Colonial Garden under construction, I received an email from a reader named Inga showing me her version of a colonial garden inspired by both the article that Cynthia had sent to me and the garden that I had started!

Here is Inga’s garden shortly after it was constructed.

And here is ours.

I emailed Inga a few weeks ago to see if she would send me some photos of her colonial garden in full swing. Inga was on vacation with her family, but when she returned she sent me some glorious photos of her beautiful garden…

I have to admit that when I stared looking over these photos of Inga’s garden, I had a small nervous breakdown…

Okay… okay… I had a very large nervous breakdown!

Inga’s garden is so neat and tidy!
Her plants are beautifully spaced.

She put cardboard under her squash! She put straw on her walk ways!

It all looks so organized and planned and carefully orchestrated and vigorous and truly lovely!

My garden on the otherhand is an exercise in chaos.

My tomatoes are practically growing on top of each other. The cucumbers are growing on top of the tomatoes. My tomato step-children are in the middle of an overgrown lettuce patch. My eggplants are riddled by bug holes and my watermelon vine is crawling all over my bee balm and my Russian sage.

I prematurely dug most of my potatoes and left only barren earth behind. Half of my beans are mostly foliage while the other half are mostly bean. Only my pepper plants continue to march in orderly lines, producing beautiful fruits that will probably fully ripen while we are on vacation.

I am getting some good vegetables from this little patch of chaos, but it is far from the manicured garden of my dreams…

Because Inga has the manicured garden of my dreams…

Oh well… there is always next Spring

And next Spring, it will be Inga who is inspiring me to plant a garden like hers instead of the reverse!

I often think of the book Angela’s Ashes. It is one of those tales, so vivid, so brutal, and yet so powerfully full of the force of life that it is impossible to forget. I spent some time today watching McCourt in various videos around the internet. He spoke of the authors that he clung to during his desperate childhood and guess what? They were all humor writers. P.G Wodehouse, Mark Twain… people that made him laugh in the middle of his miserable childhood.

Frank also credited his low-life alcoholic father who abandoned him, and the rest of his family to utter poverty for giving him a love for language and a great story. I often see this capacity in authors to see the good in their ‘captors’. Another example that immediately springs to mind, is Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. Both of these writers have an amazing sympathy and love for the very people who caused all of their misery. They have a generous perspective to see the good in the people who caused them the most pain. And they almost always have a ferocious sense of humor that helps them battle the demons of their lost youth. More often than not, it is one of their misbegotten parents that taught them how to laugh at life.

Want to give your kids a great gift?

Give them the ability to laugh.

To laugh at hardship.

To laugh at difficulty.

To see the absurdity of some of their most trying circumstances.

And most of all, to laugh at themselves.

We all need to be able to laugh at ourselves.

It is a basic survival mechanism.

I don’t think that there exists a single act that promotes mental health more.

After surviving a bitterly poor childhood in Limerick, Ireland, Frank McCourt came to America and eventually served in the Korean War. When his tour of duty came to an end, the GI bill funded his education and he became a teacher. Frank McCourt taught creative writing in New York public schools for 27 years. He retired in his mid sixties and wrote three memoirs. His first book, Angela’s Ashes won him the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie. If you have not yet read this book, might I highly suggest it?  It is a story that you will never forget.