TP, Compost Bins; try Canning Lids

The search for a new compost bin was successful in an unexpected way. Instead of spending lots of money to replace my broken tumbler, I got a stationary bin for — free. Free, free, free. Yes, you heard me, free. I was driving home from buying tomatoes for salsa, and I saw a big hulking black thing on curbside. I couldn’t stop then, but I made mental note of the location. The next day, Chuck and I drove the van over to that spot, and found the big hulking black plastic object with a new sign on it: FREE COMPOSTER. I looked it over. It was dirty (um, no problem), but all the parts were there, so we loaded it up in the minivan and brought it home. I’ve hosed it out a few times, and it will replace the collapsing composter of doom. What a deal!

Last time Chuck and Amigo went grocery shopping, I put canning lids, regular size on the list. They came home with two boxes of exactly what I needed. Good thing, too, because now – less than two weeks later – the store shelves are empty of canning lids. Friends elsewhere in the state have complained that they can’t even find jars to buy. I’m lucky; I have a very good supply of jars, and a fair amount of lids. I hope to buy more lids as I dive into the Tomato Crazy and Applesauce Season. I’ll keep my eyes wide open for unusual sources of lids for my canning jars. So far, my online searches have suggested a few I hadn’t considered.

So, readers, if you’re running low on lids for canning, either regular or wide mouth size, where do you go? Brick and mortar or online, I’ll take your suggestions.

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Reminders of Buttercup

I pulled up a dandelion the other day, and I immediately thought of Buttercup the bunny. She loved dandelion greens. When she was younger and more sprightly, she’d meet me at the door when I came inside, hoping I was carrying her favorite fresh treat. More often than not, I was.

I still pull up the dandelions, but they either go in the compost or get diced into a pesto or seasoning of some sort.

I get the same thoughts whenever Amigo is done with a page of Braille – for example, his rehearsal schedules from Tuesday nights’ Zoom chorus gathering. He used to hand the Braille paper, a little stiffer than printer paper but not as thick as cardboard, straight to Buttercup. She would nibble around the edges until we had an odd piece of leftover Braille, and then we’d add it to the compost or recycling.

Today, I harvested kale, Dear darling husband Chuck doesn’t like kale, but it’s so easy to grow! Buttercup liked it, so I planted at least a little kale every year. She died in late May, so there’s no bunny in the house to eat the kale that’s coming up. I picked as much as I could today and dried it in the oven for kale powder. All the nutritional value and none of the taste, as my dear darling sister-in-law would say.

Maybe I could add dandelion greens to the kale powder? Now that’s a thought.

Readers, do you like kale or not? There seems to be no in between on this question.

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Compost Bins are the new TP

My compost tumbler fell apart. It developed a bend and a hole alongside the handle and stabilizer for tumbling. We’ll temporarily combine the contents with the large stationery bin in the backyard, and I’ll look for a replacement.

I like to have a smaller compost bin nearer the house to use in winter. I can fill it all winter long, and then when summer comes I’ll just turn/tumble it now and then to help the contents decompose. When fall arrives and I’m putting the garden to bed, the compost from the tumbler will get layered on top of the raised beds.

Except – none of the usual stores have compost bins or tumblers in stock. Nobody. Nowhere. Not even online.

It seems (I’m guessing here, but just be patient and follow my logic for a bit) that the gardening craze spread like a virus (haha, not funny, I know) this season. One of my favorite seed stores announced on their FB page that they were running into shortages and advised gardeners to order sooner rather than later. Good thing I make a habit of ordering seeds in January.

Let’s see: people panic bought toilet paper, then panic bought baking ingredients like flour and yeast. Pasta shelves went through an empty phase, too. The interest in baking from scratch at home leads naturally to growing food in the backyard, doesn’t it? I thought so. And along with the garden comes the compost. Hence, compost bins are the new TP.

I’m going to hope I can find a small to medium bin or tumbler by September so I can ready it for Season 2: The School Year. I’ll keep monitoring Habitat ReStore, among other places. Readers, where else can I look? What do you recommend?

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(Farm) Market Day?

One loss I’m feeling deeply is the lack of local farm markets. My downtown farm market usually starts at the end of June on Saturdays. The main street of our fair city closes, and the vendors fill several blocks. It’s a wonderful atmosphere; live music, the smell of egg rolls cooking and corn roasting, and all the produce that’s in season. Not this year, thanks to Covid19.

Thanks to Covid19, our downtown farm market will start two weeks later than usual and support about one third of the usual vendors. Live music will not be allowed, and prepared foods will no longer be available. I’ll go, and I’ll buy veggies and fruits to freeze and to can for the winter, but it won’t be the same. Not by a long shot.

Today I drove past Festival Foods, the store that hosts my favorite midweek market in their parking lot on Wednesday mornings. As I got closer, I saw – could it be – a tent! A white canvas top with a point in the middle! Maybe the market was back! Maybe…maybe…nope. Just a fireworks stand. Sigh.

Fortunately, Chuck’s mother, Robin, called and told us of a farmer selling fresh strawberries from the back of his truck. She’d bought some herself, and said they were delicious. I didn’t drive there immediately (it was noon), but I may try tomorrow. Maybe the strawberries will be there again, ready for me. That may be the solution this year: without the usual market, I need to find the independent sellers. It’ll be a little more work, but I can still fill our freezer for the winter.

Readers, is your local farmers’ market still going on this year? If not, what are you doing to get fresh produce for your family?

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Writer’s Block?

Amigo keeps asking me if I’ve blogged recently. It’s not that there’s nothing going on; it’s more like there’s too much going on. Focusing in on one topic seems overwhelming.

George Floyd. The protests he inspired; the riots and vandals that tagged along.

Buttercup. Our sweet bunny, about 14 years old (ancient!), passed on last week. I still expect her to meet me at the bottom of the stairs every morning when I get up.

Covid19. Again. Still. Pandemic hasn’t let up, despite its being relegated to smaller status in the evening news stories.

School. Work from home. How it’s different, both better and not so good.

The ever present garden! Some of the peas haven’t come up; there are blank spots in the lettuce patch. I blame the chipmunk who has taken up residence under one of the boards in the raised bed. Dang pest.

Sports. Amigo and I really, really miss sports. Baseball now, football in the fall – we’re left at loose ends.

Local protests vs. nearby cities vs. larger cities – compare, contrast, consider.

Barbershop chorus! They keep rehearsing in Zoom, but their two biggest fundraisers for the year have been cancelled. What does the future hold?

Meanwhile, I’m watching the world spinning around me and wondering when it will slow down and maybe even stop.

Where to go next? Too many directions, too many important topics in our lives, here at the O.K. Chorale.

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Memorial Day Memories

When we moved into our home 22 years ago, we gained a front row seat on our new home town’s Memorial Day parade. The parade marched past the end of our block on its way to the nearby cemetery.

We developed our routines, one of which was Amigo riding his recumbent three wheeler to the end of the block and sitting in its comfortable seat, standing only when the honor guards walked by.

There were special years, like the time that the only teenagers awake at 10:00 AM were La Petite and her friends in the band. Then there was the year that La Petite slept in and her friends all looked over at us, wondering where she was. We got small finger waves from a piccolo player, among others. I hope the director didn’t notice!

Speaking of band, there was the year that Amigo cheered as his high school band marched by, catching the attention of the director, who was also his Music Appreciation teacher. She ran over to the side of the road and hugged him!

The same director and Amigo’s high school band missed the local Memorial Day parade in favor of marching in Washington, D.C. one year. The high school sent their orchestra instead – “marching” on the flatbed trailer of a semi-truck.

One year I volunteered to shuttle some of the local Democrats from the end of the parade (not far from our home) back to their cars at the beginning. I ended up “marching” along with the unit for the last bit, and then gave the college Democrats a ride back – to my own college alma mater.

There were somber moments, too. Last year the fire department had a huge unit marching in their dress uniforms, looking straight ahead, giving tribute to one of their own who had been shot in the line of duty only two weeks earlier. Neighboring departments worked shifts so that any firefighter who wanted to march could do so. The department got a standing ovation along the entire parade route from start to finish.

And that’s what Memorial Day is all about: the bands, the floats, the people, all playing and marching and walking in honor of those who gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice. Covid19 took that event off the calendar this year; next year, we’ll appreciate it even more.

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The Garden Begins – again

Around 2008, I wrote about the Recession Garden trend. I’d been gardening a long time before it became trendy, so my backyard just looked the same as it always did.

Now the Covid19 pandemic is inspiring people to dig up their lawns and plant vegetables or place large containers full of potting soil and tomato plants on their apartment balconies. I heard from at least two seed catalogs that they were running low on basics (like tomatoes) and encouraging their regular customers to order ASAP.

Frankly, I bought seeds in advance. That’s my routine. When it’s time to start my seedlings in February or March, I have what I need. Despite that time being super busy for teachers, I know I’ll be able to take breaks from grading and planning and get my hands dirty.

This year was one of the best for starting plants from seed. My tomatoes needed supports (chopsticks!) before the soil was ready and the weather was ready to transplant them into the garden plot. Were the plants growing well because the sun was strong? I didn’t use grow lights – or the small greenhouse covers from IKEA, either. Did the seedlings do well because I took care of them? It’s hard to neglect these seedlings when they sat next to my “quarantine office” in the corner of the main room.

Whatever the reason, I’m planting outside now. I’m not planting a garden because of the pandemic or the economic results from the spread of Covid19. I’m planting because it’s what I do. I’m looking forward to the results – the fresh tomatoes, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce – all of the above.

Readers, I know many of you are kindred spirits in the gardening way. Has your garden changed this season? If so, how? Let us know.

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No More Bad News, Please.

Amigo’s been struggling. His favorite week of the year, the adult camp where he sees his closest friends, has officially been cancelled. His barbershop chorus doesn’t know if they’ll be able to rehearse live, much less sing the National Anthem for the minor league baseball team – if baseball is even going to happen at that level.

One of the chorus members passed away last week. In the pre-Covid world, the guys would have sung “Nearer My God to Thee” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the ceremony. At this time, there will be a small family gathering, but no formal funeral.

Camp was officially called off last night. Barbershop live rehearsals were put on indefinite hold as of today. And then, when Amigo logged in to his Zoom voice lesson, he heard the news first hand from the director: the division contest in October will not go on. This on top of all the rest is heartbreaking.

Did I forget anything? Oh, the pet rabbit is struggling, and she’s getting worse by the day. I can’t tell if it’s old-bunny arthritis in this awful wet weather or if she’s losing control of her legs and should be…let’s not talk about it any more.

Amigo and I pulled together to cope. We invested in a local drive-thru place and indulged in ice cream. He had an Arctic Blast (like a Dairy Queen blizzard) with cookie dough in it. I had a hot fudge sundae. We did without the plastic spoons and used our own at home. Even in the darkest of times, we’ll make it easy being green. Amigo reminded me that it was okay to “drown our sorrows” as long as we remembered moderation in all things.

If only the world of Coronavirus would hand us moderation, too.

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To Meat or Not to Meat

Let’s see: shortages. Toilet Paper, hand sanitizer, hand soap, cleaning supplies, and now – meat.

Trouble in the form of Covid19 at meat packing plants hit the world as we knew it, and suddenly people weren’t sure whether to hoard meat or to avoid it. I saw a bunker full of bacon – bacon! – because it carried the Smithfield name.

We felt fortunate yet again. We own two chest freezers: one small, one medium sized. When there’s a sale on meat, we buy extra. Our small freezer is full to the brim at the moment. The medium has some space in it because that’s where I store the vegetables from the farm markets and the backyard garden. At this time of year there isn’t much there aside from the last of the green beans and several containers of soup broth.

Well, that’s not entirely true of the second freezer. That freezer has a corner I call my Prepper Stockpile. I have extra butter sticks, grated cheese, and a few other staples that go on sale often and freeze well. Loaves of bread sometimes, but at the moment I’ve used those up. Hint Brownberry bread, with its doubled plastic wrapping, freezes and thaws very well. Buy it on sale.

Our neighborhood meat market always has their sale items on a sandwich board outside the entrance. Lately, their sign has stated simply, Yes, we’re Open and We Have Meat. I know where to go when my freezer gets low.

Then again, we could turn vegetarian. I made black bean tacos tonight to rave reviews. Readers, are you eating less meat with the news out of the meat packing plants?

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Outside in the Pandemic Era

Amigo may have his first sunburn of the season. He hung out on the patio swing most of the day, listening to podcasts and audio books and enjoying the breeze. It’s good for him; he doesn’t get out much. Well, none of us get out much, unless it’s the grocery store or the pharmacy.

We’re fortunate to live in a community where it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors and still maintain social distance. We have a backyard – not to be taken for granted, We have neighbors! Neighbors who are willing to wave and say hi and chat while maintaining social distance, which no one should take for granted.

I took advantage of the weather this weekend to dig out a lot of the “walking” green onions. I originally planted them in the hopes of growing a natural border around the garden. The onions would discourage the small (and larger) furry creatures, or so I hoped, eliminating the need for a fence. Ha. Ha. Ha. No such thing. Now I have the standard chicken wire fence, lined with BIG Onions. Last summer I dug up a batch that were SO BIG that they blocked the sun in the way of my tomatoes.

What does a prepper-sort of gardener do with excess onions? Make a soup broth, of course! I used slow cookers to do it Friday, and once again today I filled two crock pots with vegetable scraps (and one with beef bones and beef fat, too). Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain – a perfect time to bring up the pressure canner and store these broths for a, well, another rainy day.

I continue to be surprised at the empty shelves in seemingly random parts of the grocery store. Yesterday it was in the candy aisle. Petunia wanted chocolate chips, and she specified the gold standard: Nestle’s semi-sweet chips. The entire shelf was empty. We did find a good quality brand of true semi-sweet chips, and she was satisfied. But why the empty shelf? And why were the M&M’s vacant? And who, I mean who, hid the last package of tonic behind the ginger ale?!? The joke is on that person, because we found it and bought it.

How does that relate to enjoying the outdoors in these pandemic days? Well, a gin and tonic will ease my acid reflux as I enjoy the backyard and maybe, just maybe, enjoy the breeze.

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