Typical Autumn Day – almost

It’s a typical fall day at the O.K. Chorale. Mostly typical, that is. Temperatures were warm – reached 70 this afternoon! – so we raked and mowed and swept leaves. I did look up at the neighbor’s maple and think “We’re not done yet,” but it still felt good to get a lot of this chore out of the way. We dumped some of our leaves on the pile in the street for the public works department to pick up, and we dumped a few tarps full in the garden to insulate the soil for the winter.

The not-so-typical piece? It’s November. We haven’t had a true killing frost or major overnight freeze yet. I’ve been turning the heat off by day because it’s plenty warm without it. And we wonder – is this our new normal?

Halloween was a wonderfully warm evening for trick-or-treat. Amigo sat on the front porch and handed out candy for most of the four hours. He’s very friendly, and he enjoys interacting with everyone who comes along and says “Trick or Treat!”

The local college sent out students, mainly student athletes, to collect for a food drive. Soccer players stopped at our house. We introduced ourselves as alumni, gathered a few boxes and cans, and handed them a few extra bags in the hopes that they’d be able to fill them.

After a successful Halloween night, one in which we did not run out of candy, I took a look at the leftovers. To me, the bowl of tiny peanut butter cups shouted, “Cookies!” Oatmeal cookies, to be exact, but with chopped peanut butter cups instead of chocolate chips or raisins.

Perfect. An unseasonably warm day, followed by cookies made from leftover candy. Readers, how is your weather? Are you concerned about climate change, too? And what did you do with your leftover candy?

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Drought?

You may have heard how to recognize a happy gardener: they’re the ones who see the rain barrels as half full instead of half empty.

Mine, all three of them, are empty. Empty. Chuck is in charge of watering everything right now, and he told me not to even ask until we have another storm. There is no more rain water left.

My little valley in the Midwest has been part of a trend for a few years now. The “severe” weather, major rain or snow, veers around us. We’ll look at the forecast and the radar and say, “Oh! Oh! We might get some of that!” and then Nope. All the precipitation will sweep to the north or the south, and we’ll be standing outside next to our empty rain barrels looking at the sky and pleading for a few drops.

I guess it really is drought weather.

Fortunately, we’re city dwellers, so we have city water. It’s treated and it’ll cost a few pennies, but we’re not limited in the amount we use. Here in the Great Lakes basin, water is plentiful and costs very little. Dry period or not, we’ll be okay.

Readers, let me know. How is your water situation? Are you flooded? Evacuating from wildfires? I hope everyone is safe and has enough to drink.

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My Garden Misses Me.

Chuck, dear sweet husband that he is, came in the other day and told me, “Your garden misses you.”

Back story: I’m recovering from surgery to straighten a big toe. Bunionectomy, it’s called. The stitches came out two days ago, and now I can focus on letting the bone heal. I’ll see the doctor again in a month. Until then, I’m stuck wearing the Incredible Protective Boot, a.k.a. Stupid Boot.

Back to the garden conversation. I only planted half of the garden last May because I knew I wouldn’t be able to work it very much. Chuck said, bravely, “I’ll plant the rest.” And he did.

He might not have realized at the time that he’d also be responsible for maintaining “my” sections as well. When he told me the garden missed me, he mentioned long branches on the tomato plants that I would certainly have tied up or guided into the spiral tomato supports. There are weeds, too. I put down barriers of corrugated cardboard and shredded paper, but a few brave stalks have found ways to sneak in. The clover, for example, stands almost as tall as the dill. A few dill plants are approaching sunflower height.

I cut him some slack in the watering task. He’s using a sprinkler to water the main patch, and using the rain barrel water to water container like the citronella and lemongrass.

I stood outside the chicken wire yesterday and threaded some tomatoes through the supports or through other branches for support. My garden misses me, and I miss it, too. Meanwhile, I’ll sit outside on the deck and watch it grow while my foot heals.

 

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Drumroll – Canning Begins!

It’s not a typical canning season – or a purely typical farmers’ market season – or even a typical garden season here at the O.K. Chorale. I’m in the middle of a Foot Surgery Summer, and that makes a difference everywhere.

I decided not to plant the whole garden plot, so Chuck decided he would put in a three sisters garden in the places I left open. Then he decided we usually have more than enough beans, so his part of the garden became two sisters: corn and squash.

I worry about being out of commission when the major tomato season arrives, so I actually started early. I made and canned barbecue sauce this week, and Chuck applied it to grilled chicken right away.

I also canned three bean salad. We still had yellow and green beans in the freezer, and fresh beans will show up at the market soon, so I pulled out my recipe file and made three bean salad, enough to last months. That’s the goal of summer canning, right? Make enough to feed the family for a length of time.

With Chuck’s help, I prepared some incredibly delicious strawberries for the freezer. That’s another task that may fall through the cracks as my foot puts me down: filling the freezer.

Then again, Chuck is stepping up to the plate, er, the counter and putting in time on the canning front. Footwork or not, we’ll feed the family. The pantry will be filled.

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Pistachio Pudding to the Rescue!

Chuck had a dream last night. I won’t analyze it, although I’m sure it has some parallels. The highlights are these:

We lived in a cramped place, and we were in a situation with a lot of anxiety. Chuck was working in the kitchen, I was struggling to get a box of something from the basement, and Amigo, just a toddler, played on the kitchen floor.  (La Petite didn’t make an appearance. Maybe she was at school.) When Amigo was young, he sensed anxiety and reacted to it in his own toddler-on-the-spectrum way. Chuck and Amigo collided, Amigo fell to pieces in a total meltdown. Chuck knew that the only thing to combat this meltdown was — pistachio pudding.

Long story short, he made pistachio pudding, put the toddler in the high chair, and all was well. Messy, but calm.

When Chuck woke up this morning, he came downstairs and made pistachio pudding. Inspired by his dream solution, he wanted to have pistachio pudding with lunch. It wasn’t that easy, though. Monday is typically our grocery shopping day, and our supply of milk was low.

Enter Daisy the Doomsday Prepper’s stockpile of sorts: dry milk! I had some! I only use it for baking bread and occasionally making oatmeal, so of course we had plenty in the cupboard. Chuck read the directions on the package, mixed up two cups of milk, and made pistachio pudding.

Amigo thought the dream was hilarious, and he could picture himself playing on the kitchen floor in our old tiny duplex. Pistachio pudding was a hit with lunch, and we continued on with the day. Chuck and Amigo grabbed the peanut butter jar to return (that’s a whole different story, and you probably know the background, readers), and headed off to shop for groceries.

Readers, has a dream ever inspired you? Serious or wacky, tell us!

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Restless

I’m supposed to be sitting still, off my feet, elevating the left foot, and doing little or nothing. It’s not working. I’m restless. Very restless.

I should offer the back story. I’m approaching surgery on the big toe of my left foot. I had bunion repair done on this toe 22 years ago, with mixed but mostly good results. The toe eventually started leaning again, and I visited the podiatrist. Long story shortened: in order to redo the bunion repair, she first had to remove the hardware (one tiny screw!) placed in the bone 22 years ago.

The hardware removal took place last week. Since then, I’ve been limiting motion, elevating the foot, wearing a massive bandage and a post-surgical “boot”. I detest these boots, by the way. This is a small one, ankle height, so it’s a little less irritating than the bigger version I dubbed Stupid Boot a few years ago. I’ll take that as a positive.

Tomorrow I see the doctor for a post-op appointment. She’ll look over the incision, take out the stitches, and hopefully tell me all is well. Given 6-8 weeks for healing, I’ll head back into surgery to fix the toe. Hopefully, it will last at least another 22 years.

Meanwhile, Chuck has taken over the kitchen. He’s handled cooking, dishes, clean-up, and the works. If I try to help, he tells me to sit down.

Meanwhile, I can’t work in the garden. Doctor Feet is also a gardener, and she pointed out a few cautions for this year. No root crops, she said. While the toe heals, you won’t want to squat. I managed to get the tomatoes planted pre-surgery, and now I just need to keep them watered. Chuck has to help with that, too.

Meanwhile, I’m stuck on the couch much of the day. And I’m restless. I hope that’s a sign of healing. I want to get the garden watered and can some more broth, but it’s not likely in the next few days. I guess I’ll wait until I heal enough for shoes.

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Taking the Day Off Post-Show

Chuck came downstairs today and asked/announced, “Can I take the day off?” Amigo did almost the same thing an hour later. Why? you might ask. Day off from what? would be a good question, too.

Yesterday was the Big Spring Show for Amigo’s barbershop chorus. This Spring Show was bigger than most because, well, pandemic. This was the first actual Spring Show since 2019, so it was special. Important. Exciting. Insert any comparable adjective here, and it’ll fit just fine.

These guys, like many of us, suffered through massive cancellations in 2020. They had to cancel a show, cancel rehearsals, and lost a major fundraiser as well. Singing, you see, can be a super spreader event. A show in theater that seats 700 was out of the question. Eventually the directors consulted their college-age daughter who guided them in the process of Zoom rehearsals, which led to in person sectionals (masked), and finally in-person rehearsals.

You can read between the lines: this year’s spring show was a Big Deal. A really, really, Major Big Deal.

In a typical week, Amigo had rehearsals every Tuesday. Chuck usually drove him to rehearsal and stayed to help out if he was needed. The week leading up to the show was bigger and busier. Tuesday’s rehearsal was a tech rehearsal. Chuck, former broadcast engineer, always helped out with audio and microphone cues. In addition, the two actors who carried out the story line between songs couldn’t make it for tech rehearsal, so Chuck and Yours Truly played their parts. Fun, yes, but it was a late night and a tiring evening full of details.

The usual Friday night dress rehearsal included the regular actors, thank goodness. Chuck still helped the tech crew, but I was able to stay home and clean the kitchen (hahaha) and make fresh ice cream (yay!).

All things considered, by the time the show was done, all three of us were thrilled and happy and wiped out.

We were thrilled to be back into show mode, performing in person for an actual audience. We were happy to be perform and socialize with the rest of the chorus. We were happy to bring Petunia and Robin and even La Petite and her sweetheart to the concert. And after coordinating all of this and enjoying the show, we were tired. Very, very tired.

Really, folks, this is the best kind of wiped out tired there is. Covid19 isn’t gone yet, but numbers were low enough to allow a performance with audience. The emotional high from this day will be with us for a while. Meanwhile, I think we’ll all three take a day off.

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Why Amigo and Chuck do the Grocery Shopping

Amigo and Chuck have been doing the family shopping for a long time. By now, we consider it routine. They rarely take me along, which is okay, I guess. Maybe. Why?

  1. Chuck worked in grocery stores in the past; he knows the tricks of the trade.
  2. Chuck knows how to bag groceries. When I do it, it’s a mess.
  3. They make the list in order according to the store layout.
  4. They’re fairly efficient and cost-conscious.
  5. Chuck is a good cook; he’ll look through the departments with menus in mind.

But the main reason they take on the shopping without me is this: I’m a closet prepper. When I see something we use and it’s on a major sale, I tend to buy a  lot. Like, “Ooh, baked beans are marked down! I think I’ll buy six cans.” Or I might think, “Jello? We don’t use much jello. But then again, if we’re sick we don’t want to make an extra trip to buy jello and chicken soup. I’ll grab a few boxes – like, maybe, five.”

Then there are the loss leader prices: the ten for $10 deals. I’ll reach for the shelf and hear Chuck saying, “Dear, you don’t have to buy ten to get the good price.” And I’ll shake my head, think “Busted! again,” and only get a few.

In support of my own contributions, I’ll remind you that I’m both gardener and canner. We rarely buy vegetables at the store because we buy veggies in season at the farmers market all summer and fill our freezer. I make and can pickles, tomatoes, tomato sauce, jams, and more.

So, readers, how does grocery shopping shape up for you? Who is the main shopper, and why?

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Harmony Weekend with Amigo

Like much of the world last year, the barbershop harmony world was largely shut down. Amigo’s chorus was rehearsing on Zoom, waiting for a vaccine so they could rehearse together again. Amigo took voice lessons, also via Zoom, once a week. The annual district fall contest was cancelled, as many other events in 2020. Fall of 2021, the Land of Lakes District of the Barbershop Harmony Association gathered in Minnesota.

To summarize briefly, Amigo’s chorus did well. They scored well and got some good constructive comments from the judges. They didn’t win, but they were pleased with their performance and feedback.

Summaries, however, don’t really show what the weekend was like. To feel the atmosphere of a barbershop crowd, imagine attending a banquet. On the surface, it seems like a regular banquet, with good food and a nice group of people at each table. But listen closely: you’ll hear a pitch pipe, followed by a table of guys singing standards, or Polecats in barbershop lingo. When one table finishes singing, another pitch pipe will sound at another table in the room. The ambience couldn’t be beat.

As the banquet program began, the entire room joined together in the National Anthems for Canada and the U.S. Four part harmony, of course, and a lump in my throat just listening. An all-chapter chorus followed, with Amigo representing his chorus.

As the announcer declared, it’s great to be at a conference that brings their own entertainment! Sitting at this banquet was a highlight of the weekend. Singing and listening, making new friends, enjoying coming together after a long separation. It’s a wonderful irony that Land of Lakes District abbreviates their name to LOL. There was laughter, out loud laughing, all around. Harmony and laughter? Now that’s a sweet weekend.

 

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Butternut Squash Soup

The storage area that is usually cool and dry is, well, neither. Thanks to an unseasonably warm October and a streak of rainy days, the back hallway is not a good place to store my vegetables. I disposed of two potatoes, a large red onion, and half of a butternut squash this morning.

Then I cleaned the containers and added the little “dryers” that come in packages. Does this do any good? It can’t hurt.

And then I made soup with the remaining half of the butternut squash. I used my standard recipe and cut it down to match the amount of squash I had left. Here it is, folks, without adaptation. This is a lot of soup; use a BIG crock pot if you make the whole thing.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash (about 4 lb), peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces(estimated amount: 10 cups)

1 large apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces1 medium white onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled, diced

2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 1/2 cups chicken broth or chicken stock

1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Directions: Spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. In cooker, toss squash, apple, onion, carrot, curry powder, salt, and white pepper. Pour broth over vegetable mixture. Cover; cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Use immersion blender or remove small amounts of soup (3 cups at a time) into blender to blend until smooth. Add brown sugar (and milk or cream, optional) while blending. Turn heat setting to high. Cover; cook for another 30 minutes. Serve. Enjoy.

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