Goodbye, Luna

It always hurts to lose something you love, or someone, even if that someone is “just” a cat. I think we will all shed tears over this little critter, publicly or privately, and each miss him in our own way. He was Anna’s special cat, but all of us loved him. Even Dad, who always puts on a pretense of thinking that the critters are “just” critters and relatively useless ones at that, will miss Luna. Luna seemed like he was doing better day-before-yesterday, and seemed to be responding to our attempts to nurse him back to health, but he took a turn for the worse yesterday morning and fell asleep for good sometime this morning. We’ll miss his quirks and his cuddles.We had Luna for 2 years, and his personality has always amused and delighted and befuddled us. His looks were like a scientific illustration of a cat – he was perfect, with a long, thick tail, a perfectly proportioned body, and beautiful pale eyes. But aside from his looks, nothing else was dignified about him. He’s the cat who, even when quite full-grown, would curl himself up ridiculously to “nurse” on his own belly fur, a habit that he caught on to doing when his sister, Koshka, apparently missing their mother, started sucking on his belly when they were just 2-month-old kittens. Koshka eventually grew out of the habit, but not Luna. He’s the one who fell in love with Jess’s dog who was here for the first 9 months that we lived in the Hills.  The two of them would love on each other, with Luna allowing Baby to groom him from head to tail. He’s the one we babied when he managed to get part of his tail degloved this winter when he got his tail closed in the front door, and he put up with our clumsy doctoring and his poor cone very patiently and sweetly. He was a forgiving cat.  He’s the one who would taunt the dogs, then turn on them, claws unsheathed, and send the dogs scattering hilariously. Luna always strutted around like he was some hotshot, and then would go do something stupid. It is kind of hard to believe that crazy, beautiful cat is gone.
IMG_9040We all loved him.

 

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Recipes | Wild Plum Jam

The wild plums are sure bountiful this year! I don’t know what they were like last year, but this year has been amazing. I went picking again this morning with a friend, and we picked about 6 gallons of plums! I couldn’t believe it. When we drove up to the (secret) plum thicket, my heart sank a little, since the branches seemed awfully bare. But we climbed down into the thicket and the ground was covered with beautiful, firm, ripe fruit. Most of what we picked we actually picked off the ground. The plums that were still on the tree were barely attached and just fell off into our hands, or fell to the ground as we shook the branches.IMG_4288eYesterday, I finished processing my first batch of plums as plum jam, and it did not disappoint. Here is the recipe, the process adapted from a recipe on Kitchn and a Sure-Jell recipe.IMG_4270eIngredients

  • ~1 gallon of plums
  • 1 box powdered pectin
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. butter (optional)

Process

Wash plums and cut off bad spots. In a stockpot with about a half a cup of water, cook the plums with pits, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, mashing the fruit as you go. A potato masher can also be used to help loosen the pits. When the plums have reached a sauce-like consistency, remove from the heat and pull out the pits, leaving as many of the skins as possible. Use an immersion blender to blend the pulp and chop up the skins. Measure out 6 cups of pulp. There will be extra. In a stockpot, combine the plum pulp and the powdered pectin. Add butter if desired to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Mixture should continue to boil even while you are stirring. Add the sugar. Return to a boil, and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Skim off any foam that forms, and save for a taster.

Pour into prepared jars, clean the rims and threads, and seal jars with two-piece canning lids. Process 10 minutes in hot water bath (I adjusted for altitude and processed for 15 minutes).IMG_4272Notes

Jam differs from jelly in that jelly uses only the juice, while jam uses all of the usable fruit, including the skin. Plums can be pitted before or after cooking. Either way is bound to be tedious. I left the pits in and after an hour of pulling the pits out, I was almost in tears. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that I didn’t start processing them until 11:00 pm, so it was 1:00 am and I was still pulling pits out. So it was bad timing. If I make jam again, I don’t know if I will leave the pits in and cook them, or pit them ahead of time. I may try to use a ricer, which would unfortunately pull the skins out, but would at least make it easier to separate the pits and the pulp. It would be worth a try. IMG_4281eI had never made plum jam before, and I don’t know if I have ever even eaten plum jam before. But it is exquisite on bread with a generous quantity of butter. Enjoy!

 

apple harvest — The One-cow Revolution

Here is what my aunt and uncle in Ohio are up to. The life and work of some real homesteaders!

Diversity pays off in different ways. Not everything we grow “makes” (matures to harvest) every year. By September we are beginning to know what the storage cellars will be offering us this winter — to know what “made” and what didn’t. This year will be remembered for its two biggest projects: a wedding — […]

via apple harvest — The One-cow Revolution

Luna

Anna’s poor Luna-cat is sick. He is the big, beautiful boy who lost part of his tail this winter and who always seems to be getting into scrapes. A few days ago, he started acting funny, but given that he is kind of a weird cat already, he didn’t seem much weirder than usual. But it became clear he was not just weird but sick, so Anna and Mom took him to the vet yesterday, and it turns out he has kidney stones, which for a cat can be a pretty big deal.
IMG_1754I don’t know what you think about praying for critters, but I believe that the God who created animals does care about those same critters. If not even a sparrow can fall to the ground outside the will of the Father, then I also know that poor Luna is seen by God, and that God cares. So when our critters are sick, they are in my prayers. But more than that, if you pray to Jesus, send up a little prayer for Anna, since Luna is her particular favorite and I know she’ll be really sad if she has to put him down. Unfortunately, veterinary costs of hundreds of dollars for a cat are just plain not something we can do (maybe…won’t do? They’re animals, not people. Great, now PETA will come and arrest me and PETA’s minions will excoriate me for being cruel and inhumane). If Luna doesn’t start showing some improvement in the next few days, Anna might have an unpleasant choice to make. The poor cat obviously doesn’t feel good, but he isn’t suffering right now, so we’ll see how he does over the next few days.

Pets are one of those multifaceted gifts that God gives, that kind of leave me bewildered. They bring such joy (and sadness at times), and there really is no explaining it. When I see the uniqueness of each of our critters, or cuddle a purring cat, or feel Ember pouncing my feet the nights I let her sleep inside (that’s supposed to be a secret, by the way), I wonder at God’s goodness and winsomeness in providing these not-so-simple joys. What is simple about the exquisite beauty of God’s handiwork? The God who created the planets and the universe also created the cat’s purr and the dog’s loyalty. What a great God. He didn’t need to do any of that. But He did.

Well, we’ve gotten pretty good at cat-doctoring, particularly with Luna degloving his tail back in December, so I’m hoping our doctoring will set him right. We’ll see, I guess.

The Insanity of Convenience

In our technology-filled life and landscape, connected to “the grid,” working as “cogs in the machinery of society,” we can lose touch with (or lose altogether) the skills and the delight and the contentedness of being able to do things by hand, from scratch, start-to-finish, garden-to-table, wilderness-to-kitchen. The art of homemaking has been complicated into a series of tasks not accomplished without the intense intrusion of technology, supposedly there to make tasks easier, and making us capable of driving ourselves crazy. Some tasks have perhaps been simplified, but at the expense of the satisfaction of having actually accomplished the task. The rat maze of modern life is bound tight with things that we do in order to simplify our existence. But what is simple about modern life, except that a lot of it doesn’t require any thought or creativity, since that has been simplified out of it? There are multiple processes which we accept as just a part of our modern existence, and probably even think they are beneficial.

But are they?
IMG_4227eInstead of washing dishes by hand, drying them, and putting them away (at which point the task has been completed in no more than a half hour of time), there is the intrusion of the dishwasher, taking about as much time to load, run, dry, and put away the dishes as it does to do them by hand. Add the confusion of someone partially emptying a dishwasher, only to have another person come to add more dishes and no one knows if the dishwasher is clean or dirty.

Instead of everyone having fewer clothes that we wash by hand only after they are actually dirty and then dry on the clothesline, folding them as we take them off the line (at which point the task is finished), we have more clothes that we wash more often before they are actually dirty, dry in the dryer, only to forget about them and need to re-dry them to fluff them before we can fold them, which are then put into baskets and then forgotten again, until the laundry has piled up from a week of laundry-doing (because we do it so often, there is actually laundry to pile up), and then in desperation it is folded wrinkled anyway, by which time another two or three loads are waiting to be washed. All because we have a washing machine and dryer and we can wash and dry that much laundry.

Instead of well-planned trips to the grocery store or to town once or twice a month, there is the temptation to run to the store whenever you think of something you need, simply because we have a vehicle and either live close enough to the store to do that (that was our situation in Illinois), or because we drive by the store on our way to and from work multiple days a week.

Instead of having a couple of highly useful appliances, we have five dozen different ones that all do different things – supposedly to make life easier. If you can find the one you need and remember how to use it.

Instead of nutritious, simple meals, we complicate our lives with prepackaged foods, processed foods, and quick trips to a drive through over the lunch break. And then we wonder where the obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and general malaise come from.

We don’t memorize phone numbers, because we don’t need to – they are all in our phones. We don’t keep written, sweet records of communication with people in the forms of letters and cards, because it is all stored on the computer. We don’t keep a tidy recipe book or recipe card box, because we don’t need to, those are on the computer, too. We don’t print favorite photos to paste in a family album – instead, we have folders and folders of digital images, stored on our phones, computers, Facebook, that take ages to sort through if you ever want to find something, so we never look at them.

Please don’t understand me as saying that we should just scrap technology and modern advancements (although…I’m not not saying that, either…), but how much meaning has been added to our lives by our modern conveniences? Arguably, none. Spiritually speaking, absolutely none. Socially speaking, well, I think the studies and people’s attitudes and ineptitudes speak for themselves. Physically speaking, we may live longer but we’re all sicker and feel crummy and are depressed from all the craziness. So, arguably, none.

Yes, I’m being somewhat facetious. Just somewhat. Because just how much do we really gain by running ourselves into the ground with convenience?

Living further out of town automatically simplifies one’s life, to a certain extent. It no longer makes sense to go to the grocery store “in a pinch,” because it is simply too far away – hooray. Hanging a clothes line and even doing some laundry by hand has simplified my part of the laundry process. We only have one washing machine, which is half a mile up the hill at Grandma’s, so eliminating at least the clothes dryer helps to make laundry day more pleasant, at any rate.

So some ideas on how to simplify would be as follows (i.e., how I envision a perfect life):

  1. Live at least 45 miles from a town with a Walmart.
  2. Live at least 15 miles from a town with any kind of store.
  3. Keep a stocked pantry.
  4. Cook from scratch.
  5. Wash dishes by hand. Even better, wash dishes while making dinner and avoid the dreaded pileup.
  6. Only wash clothes when they need it. It really is okay to wear clothes more than once, believe it or not.
  7. Make use of the clothesline. And fold it as it comes off the line. There, nary a wrinkle.
  8. Limit bathing. No, I’m not kidding. Unless you have a job where you get actually dirty, you don’t need to shower every day. Honestly. Believe me.
  9. Keep chickens, if for nothing else than to have to say “no” occasionally.
  10. Grow a garden. Revel in the time it takes to pull some weeds and water.
  11. Get rid of appliances if they double the purpose accomplished by something else.
  12. Put the stupid phone away. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to see a dating couple sitting at a restaurant with their phones out.
  13. Spend real time with people, doing real things, and having real conversations. Pursue real relationships with the 10 people you actually like and want to know better, rather than electronically with the 300 people you feel like you sort of know through social media.
  14. Look up and seek out the constellations. Look for spiderwebs in the grass, dewdrops on the flowers, pictures in the clouds.

I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I can enjoy the satisfaction of taking the time to accomplish something start-to-finish from scratch without “conveniences”: from-scratch meals, sewing projects, housekeeping tasks. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I have the time and energy to spend quality time with people I love. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that there is a routine, and a flexibility within that routine. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I can actually say “yes” to things that come up, rather than wondering if it will fit within the busyness of a scheduled-out week. I desire to live a life that is not caught up in the things that don’t matter, but in things that do, in things that are lasting and eternal, not in things that are temporary and fading. I desire to live a life that is simple in its effectiveness, its sweetness, and its genuineness. I desire to live. Perhaps some of what I’ve said is idealistic and unrealistic. But I would rather err on the side of idealistic and only partially get there, rather than err on the side of realistic and not get there at all.

Convenience is one of the altars of modern humanity, and on it we sacrifice our time, our sanity, our joy, our relationships, our kids, our health, our dreams. Although simplifying our lives is by no means the answer to life’s problems, simplification can be a part of shedding the numbness we get used to when we are so strung out trying to accomplish everything – we succeed, but only at the cost of our calm, our content, and our joy. Be willing to slow down, and shake off the insanity of convenience.

Recipes | Crabapple Syrup

Finally! Fruit processing season has been here for a few weeks now, and I am thrilled to report a few new recipes that have been added to my recipe collection. This recipe for crabapple syrup is adapted from one I found on the Backyard Forager website – here is the original article and recipe. I have my own method of juice extraction, but I needed the sugar-to-juice ratio and the cooking and processing time. It is a wonderfully tangy syrup, and I look forward to using it on or in a number of things – yogurt, pancakes, icecream or sorbet, lemonade or iced tea…The list could be endless.

Ingredients

10 c. crabapple juice

10 c. sugar

1.5 T pectinIMG_3892Method – Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Heat the mixture to boiling and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Skim foam off the top and save the skimmings for a taster. Pour syrup into sterile jars. Clean rims and threads, and seal with two-piece canning lids. Processes for 1o minutes in a boiling water bath, or adjust for altitude. I processed the jars for 15 minutes, since we are at ~3600 feet above sea level. Yields about 7 pint jars.IMG_3906Notes – I added the pectin in the hopes of thickening the syrup a little. The original recipe doesn’t include any pectin. The chokecherry syrup I made last year was very runny, even though it included pectin, and I liked the consistency even though other family members didn’t. Crabapples have a fair amount of natural pectin, so I was hesitant to add too much pectin and end up with jelly rather than syrup! However, the 1.5 tablespoons didn’t really do anything. After thinking about it, I realized it was kind of a joke that I even thought that little pectin would do anything at all to that quantity of juice and sugar, but math and ratios (yes, simple math, I know) are not my strong suit. They aren’t even my weak suit. They just aren’t. Period. I also added a splash of lemon juice, and could have added more (go back to math not being my strong suit). As far as the headspace, I left about a half inch of headspace, which might be a little much, but I don’t think it will matter. I probably could have gone with 1/4 inch.

There is something exceedingly satisfactory about the process of home canning. I’m so glad it is that time of year!