Classic John Deere

The John Deere is getting some much needed work, before we tackle the big job of the year: mowing pastures. Our local welder (Dave's new best friend) just fixed a broken mower deck on the riding lawn mower; now he's fixing the damaged front brush guard for the tractor, and straightening and reinforcing the brush guards for the big Ford rotary mower.

My work is less critical but oh so satisfying: giving the JD its first bath since we bought it in 1986, then cleaning the oxidation off the paint to make it shine. Who knows... I might even give it a coat of wax.

Since Dave had the tractor out of the shed, it seemed a good time to check it over and make a list of what needs to be done. And I got out my paint cleaner and did a few test spots on the paint, to see if the paint will clean up like I hope it will. Then I used the compressor to blow off debris. And when I leaned over to clean off the engine mounts, look what I found... this huge twig and moss nest. It's actually a pretty clever place to build... accessible from two sides, completely out of the weather, and practically invisible.


Quail in the orchard...

The resident family of quail, two adult pair, has been stalking the bird feeders lately, and roaming from pasture to orchard, even hanging out on the patio in the evening, just before the sun sets. We've been waiting for the babies to arrive, to know the nests are vacant, before we take the John Deere out and mow down the blackberries in the pastures.

This morning as I washed dishes, I glanced out the windows to the orchard, and there they were, both families. One had two half-grown chicks, the other had 5 newly fledged chicks. The males were on guard as the rest roamed, looking for seeds and bugs.

Last year our one adult pair had 13 chicks, and they were so comical to watch. The first time we saw the babies, they were so small their heads didn't come above the level of the grass. All you saw was the grass moving, so you knew the babies were there.

I like to think that one of those kids decided its parents were pretty cool, and came back this year to raise its own babies. Maybe next year there will be six adults raising their babies here at the farm.


Back to school...

The smell of autumn was in the air this morning... 47 degrees and cool and moist, like the woods at the ocean. The feel of back-to-school was in the air, so many memories. Of finishing up my books for summer reading club. Riding the bus into downtown Seattle with my mom and sisters to shop for shoes at Nordstrom, back when Nordstrom was just a shoe store. Fabric stores to look at patterns and fabric, then hovering over Mom as she sewed, the endless exciting fittings of clothes for the first day of school. Waiting for class schedules to arrive, and calling my friends to see if we shared any classes. And finally, that first day came.

When I became an adult, autumn still came with that same sense of urgency. As though all those years of starting back to school forever embedded those feelings in my very being. The anticipation, the excitement... but most of all, the feeling that anything was possible, and the future was yet to be written.


Silver grapes

Today I finished reorganizing the wine cellar and updating the cellar inventory. But instead of crashing early, after a day of lugging cases of wine around, I stayed up late, reading. I just got the first of a series of mysteries set on a vineyard and winery in Virginia. It grabbed me, and I couldn't put it down. And as I read, I thought about our own wine collection, and the years Dave spent making wine, and that led to my favorite silver flatware pattern. My thoughts don't always travel in a straight line...

The pattern is called Vintage Grape, and was introduced in 1904 by 1847 Roger Bros. With my love of wine, collecting wine, wine tasting, wine anything... it's perfect for me. I found my first piece at a garage sale years ago, and never visit an antique store without looking for more. There are other silver patterns that have grapes in their design, and a few pieces have found their way into my collection. But Vintage is by far my favorite.

(excerpt from The Merlot Murders, copyright Ellen Crosby, all rights reserved)


Alaska salmon

The guys are back from their Alaskan salmon adventure. We wish we could have gone, and maybe next year we will. Everyone brought home daily limits of silvers, plus they caught halibut and sea bass and snapper. Four boxes of fish filled the deep freeze they hauled here to keep the fish frozen on the drive home to Colorado... minus a few fillets they gave us. They couldn't stop talking about the fishing resort and the accommodations and the gourmet food, too. But in the end, it's all about the fishing.


End of bloom...

The hollyhocks are nearly finished blooming, and since it's the first year they bloomed, there weren't enough flower stalks to help the plant stand upright. So they've turned into garden art, twining and leaning, even stretched out along the ground. Still, the color is gorgeous... nearly black in the shade and brilliant maroon with the light shining behind. The variety is called Jet Black, and was planted in Jefferson's gardens at Monticello.


A year ago | The great blackberry pie experiment

The berries on the farm were late this year... by the first of August last year, we were picking them daily. Dave picked his secret patch of native berries, the small ones that grow on ground-hugging vines. They're yummy.

Finally the warm weather worked its magic and the berries came into production mode. Enough to pick for my morning cereal... but I love it when there are plenty of berries to freeze for pies and cobblers during the winter months.

Last year Dave and I narrowed down a bunch of blackberry pie recipes to two, and I blended the two recipes together into what I hoped would end up being the perfect sweet, not-too-runny, blackberry pie. It was a hit with the family, and it's now my favorite pie recipe.

Blackberry pie... oh, my!

We all picked berries today... actually, we picked and ate. No berries made it into the house to be used in a pie. But I'm not worried; tomorrow is another day and there are a couple of acres of berries to pick!

Pennylane Farm Blackberry Pie

6 cups (1 3/4 pounds) blackberries (use 8.5–9 cups for 10-in. deep dish)
1 cup sugar
3 Tbl flour
3 tsp tapioca
juice and zest from a lemon (1 tsp juice and 1/2 teaspoon zest)
2 tbl butter, diced

Make pie dough for a double-crust pie, form into flattened rounds, wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Everyone has their favorite, so I won't include one here. My favorite is from the Martha Stewart Cookbook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a baking sheet on the middle rack.

Place the berries in a generously large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice and lemon zest. Make sure there's enough room to comfortably stir the ingredients together.

Mix the sugar, flour, and tapioca together, then add to the berries. Toss gently, and let stand for 20 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally; this helps extract some of the juice.

Roll out the bottom crust and place in the pie plate. I like to roll up the dough on my rolling pin, which makes it easier to move the crust without damage. Trim, leaving a half inch overhang. Spoon the blackberry mixture into the pie shell.  Dot the top with the butter.

Roll out the top and place on top of the pie. Trim, fold the edge under the bottom crust, and crimp the edges together. Pierce the top to make steam vents.  If you wish, lightly beat an egg with a tablespoon of water and brush on the top and edge of the pie.

Place the pie on the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake until the filling is bubbling, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the crust browns too quickly, cover it with foil and continue baking. Let the pie cool before serving.


Old trucks...

There are so many memories linked to our old truck, I'm glad I never convinced Dave to get rid of it back in 2003, when it quit running.

We bought it new in 1977, and it moved us away from home to a new life in the Tri-Cities. We never would have managed landscaping our bare lot without the truck. It took us camping and fishing, hauled railroad ties (and got stuck in the mud), and took us on our first trip to Montrose, Colorado, to visit Dave's uncle Dee. The dents and dings have stories, like the one on the top of the tailgate, put there when Mike Budden dumped a log there before flipping it into the bed. We even still have the original license plates... although it has graduated to collector plates now, and we'll never pay another license fee.

Dave and his uncle rebuilt the engine two years ago. They thought it was a timing chain issue; turned out two of the cams had rounded off. It took four days to locate the problem and many trips to the parts store, but they figured it out. It's still parked in the barn, covered in dust, but it runs great.

Dee is visiting this week, and before the guys took it out for a spin, I got out my paint cleaner and did a few test spots on the paint. I think it's going to clean up really well. The test spots are bright and shiny, and not that much oxidation came off on the rag. This week it will get a bath and I'll start detailing. It needs work inside, too... new mats and seat coverings, new seat belts and door panels. Minor stuff that will make a big difference in looks.

These old trucks are really in demand these days. People love them because they can work on just about anything in the engine. No computer-controlled anything to get in the way. But I suspect we won't sell it... too much history.


Writing the old-fashioned way

I kept a notebook with me this weekend, ready to write down ideas and thoughts... notes on projects I'm working on, and things that need to be done. And I found myself writing freely about other, less structured things. Thoughts on a book I'm reading, and what I'm getting out of it. Memories about people and places we used to live. Random stuff mostly, but there was something about this old-fashioned approach... using pencil and paper and eraser, ignoring the laptop for once. Jotting notes and thoughts as they come seems to feed the creative machine... as does this place, our small rustic cabin on the edge of a lake.


Carved foal (TT)

The summer before I turned 13, my dad's oldest brother and his wife came for a visit. Uncle Dene had just lost most of a lung to cancer, and his doctor told him to get out of the Colorado mountains for a few months. So they bought a small motor home and came west. They came and went, staying with us, and exploring the Northwest. That Christmas, a small package arrived for this horse-crazy girl; inside, a delicate foal carved from clear Douglas fir. I've treasured it ever since.

My uncle only lived a few more years, and this summer-long visit was the last time I saw him. This small carved horse keeps the memories alive for me.

Textured with Kim Klassen's Quiet (overlay @ 73%)

Posted on Texture Tuesday today...  have a look here for all the beautiful photographs being shared this week.