Apples, Apples, Everywhere

My minivan is full of apples. I do mean full. We made last weekend into a Procure the Apples weekend, and oh, were we ever successful! (Pictures later. Really.) 

For our first trick, er, trip, I led Chuck to two small orchards in the not-really-a-town of Darboy. The owner/operator at the first orchard sold us four pails of “seconds” only after he was convinced that we knew what we were doing. He was suitably impressed that we own a cider press, and he showed us a few of the varieties (honey crisp! Sweet!) in the scratch and dent collection. This is going to be good cider.

The second orchard had two boxes that had been cases of Bud Light filled with imperfect Cortland apples. They had a wall of empty Bud Light cases donated by the bar down the street. Bud Light, according to Chuck, is to beer what Velveeta is to cheese. But back to the topic at hand, Cortlands are a lot like Macintosh; they are good for eating or cooking and go with just about anything. Mixed with the Honey Crisp and Macintosh and who knows what else, their tartness will keep the cider from being too sweet. This is going to be really good cider.

The next day we gave up on the officiating at the Green Bay Packers game – we would never give up on the Packers themselves – and we picked from the tree in front of my office. A few buckets and too many mosquito bites later, we loaded up three buckets at no cost and brought them all home. All the buckets and boxes from the weekend are still in my minivan. It’s a very safe storage space. No chipmunks or other critters can get at those apples before it becomes that good, good cider.

One exception exists, unfortunately. Fruit flies. It was Tuesday night when I decided the fruit flies were distracting the driver (me) all too much. What to do about it? I didn’t want to leave the buckets in the garage where they might attract little furry creatures and stinging critters as well. If I moved the overflowing apple buckets to the house, I’d just be moving the fruit flies to a new home where they’d still drive me crazy. 

The solution: cover the buckets. I only had two covers for the big five gallon buckets, and the Bud Light boxes didn’t come with lids. I covered the two buckets that I could, and then found a tarp to throw over the rest. It worked. The apples are still exposed to enough air that they won’t rot, my van smells heavenly, and there are far fewer fruit flies. 

Alliteration. That’s where it’s at, people. When we hit the cider press on Sunday, I’ll do my best to chronicle the process on film. Er, on digital. On the blog. 

Curiouser and Curiouser – and apple cider, too

Brother and family came to visit yesterday. 8-year-old niece, we’ll call her “Rainbow,” was curious about Chuck’s cooking techniques. He cooked boneless chicken thighs in barbecue sauce on the stove in a cast iron pan. The original plan was to grill the chicken, but Mother Nature delivered steady rain that made the grill less attractive. 

Rainbow decorated the chalkboard on the drop-down table. That’s her job when she visits. We hand her the chalk, and she knows what to do. 

Rainbow was curious about the barbecue sauce that Chuck had made from my homemade ketchup, which started as leftover liquid from canning salsa. The concept of making something from scratch that might be available in a jar or bottle caught her attention. Her mother is an excellent scratch cook; she must not have made her own barbecue sauce recently. 

After supper the fun began. We set ourselves up in the garage (still raining) and began chopping apples for cider. Rainbow was, shall we say, excited? She took part in every step of the process: chopping, crushing, pressing, and of course, tasting. She came inside with me to watch the pasteurizing step. She ended up leaving before the cider cooled, so she didn’t take any home. Yet. We’ll definitely find a way to get some of the finished product to her family sometime soon. 

Back to the Blog

I’ve been off-blog for quite a while. I realized that a lot of the short incidents, like what I’ve bought at the Farmers’ Market, are getting shared on Facebook these days. I haven’t done much on Twitter, and I’m not on Instagram, so I can’t use those two as an excuse. 

Lately I’ve run into situations that made me think, “I should blog this.” Sometimes it’s Amigo who tells me, “Mom, you should blog this. Really.” And I realize that the Pharmacy that Shall Not Be Named has improved to the point that they don’t make the blog anymore, but the Clinic that Shall Not Be Named still rates a post now and then. The worst offender lately was my employer-provided health insurance. I’m still very angry with the folks at charge there, so I’m not ready to post. I might be ready to write it, but I’m not quite ready to post. And the “Smart” MRI place? I’m not sure whether to christen them “Stupid” MRI or “Dollar Store Variety MRI.” Frankly, either would fit. 

I don’t want to blog my Packers. At the moment, their record is the same as the Cleveland Browns. At least the Browns inspired Budweiser to Open the Refrigerators – Clay Matthews is only inspiring yellow flags at the moment, deserved or not. 

The Pirate’s Booty (current nickname; this may change)

I’m in this boot for six weeks – one down, five to go. Updates to come.  for the Boot and its progress, I’ll need a full post – or two.

Safe to say, Daisy will be back. Besides, there’s an election coming up. I’ll have all kinds of plenty to say.

Communication and Health Care – not

Dear Clinic that Shall not be Named: 

I get it. I do. I understand that I had my last mammogram in August of 2017. I know that I cancelled my August appointment this year. Really, though, you could have saved the postage on that little reminder letter. You know the one: the letter reminding me that a full year has gone by and I haven’t had my next mammogram yet. 

You see, Clinic that Shall not be Named, I have already rescheduled the mammogram for mid-September. If your computer system had been programmed to make one more step, perhaps a search for an upcoming appointment, there would have been no need to send a reminder letter by way of the USPS. 

I suppose it could have been worse. If Clinic that Shall not be Named made robo-calls instead of sending reminder letters, then I would have gotten very irritated and perhaps my blood pressure would have escalated. At least with the silly letter, I just laughed and ripped it up. 

In conclusion, Clinic that Shall not be Named, once again your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing. Get with it, okay? Okay. 

On the First Day for Teachers

Sorry, no partridge in a pear tree. I’ll share a few other numbers with you, though. 

On the first day back to school for teachers, the district gave to me: 

Two shopping bags (with credit union logos);

One box of tissue

One inspirational motto-du-jour tee-shirt

Forty Welcome postcards (for my homeroom)

Five leading questions (for a getting-to-know-you video)

And my first ride on Uber! 

Well, in all honesty, the school district didn’t give me the Uber ride. With several hundred teachers and other school peoples converging on my fair downtown’s new Exposition Center, I knew parking would be crazy. With my recent surgery, I’m still not up to strength – at least enough strength to walk from a city bus stop or downtown parking venues.  I decided to try out Uber. We established a family account so Amigo could use it when he needs to get somewhere, so I thought, why not? It’ll cost me a few bucks, but I’ll get dropped off right at the door, no parking problems, no need to walk any distance. It was worth the cost of the ride to get me to the door and drop me (I am not making this up) right in front of the school superintendent as she walked up the steps. 

So on we go, boats against the current – oh, wait, that was the incredible downpour later in the day. Never mind! 

Garden Stages; moving on

Carrots. Once again, the carrots struggled. Maybe something feathered ate the seeds. Maybe something furry nibbled the greens as they emerged. In the end, I picked six. Six carrots. I had planted a smaller variety to give them a fighting chance at getting through the topsoil without fighting the clay below, and I think the few that actually grew did pretty well. Buttercup had three, including greens, for her supper tonight. She liked them well enough. 

Lettuce is done. Buttercup is nibbling the last few leaves of yellow/green lettuce tonight, too. Such a lucky bunny! 

I turned the soil with my as-seen-on-tv Garden Claw that I bought from a rummage sale a few years ago. I felt a little sad when I overheard the teenagers at the sale saying, “Oh, Grandma always loved using that in her garden!” I don’t know if Grandma passed away or moved to an apartment, but I hope she knows her as-seen-on-tv Garden Claw is in good hands. I use it often. 

Next: the decisions. I could start spreading compost now to let it settle in sooner rather than later. I could plant peas again; chances are good they’ll come up before the big frosts in October or November. Climate Change has stretched the fall gardening season a bit; planting again might be worth the effort. 

And that’s only half the plot, really. Tomatoes are growing and producing well. Broccoli and cauliflower are starting to smell like broccoli and cauliflower. They’re not big enough to pick yet, but I predict they’ll be delicious. Zucchini, of course, is thriving. We’ll have zucchini bread at least once this week. 

And then there’s the random corner, the area full of volunteer and mystery flowers and others. This might require pictures to do it justice. Before I plant any peas or spread any compost, I’ll share the odd corner with you. And readers? Yes, you? Teachers go back to school this week. There will be limited time for gardening. Limited, I said, not no time at all. Playing in the dirt is an after school sanity saver, after all.

Hospital Food: the Next Generation

Long, long ago, when I was a teenager, I had a part time job in the food service of the local hospital. I learned about nutrition, and I learned about hard work. I learned about balancing school and work, saving money, and getting homework done – well, most of the time. 

I learned that hospital food wasn’t as bad as it was reputed to be. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible, either. I’m sure I gained a few pounds sampling extra desserts with my coworkers. 

The local hospital system (let’s just call is Local Hospital System) doesn’t use the tray line and simple choices that we used when I was a teen and even when my babies (now 26 and 30) were born. Local Hospital System has a menu, almost restaurant style, in place. The patient calls the kitchen to order a meal, and someone brings it up in 30 to 45 minutes. 

I have to admit, I’m impressed. 

Vegetable Stir Fry with Rice and Chicken

These beans were good – so good that I asked the nurse if they were locally choice. Surprise! She knew, and the answer was yes! Local Hospital System owns and operates a garden. 

Pot Roast with Vegetables

I didn’t ask – the floor was pretty busy when I had my lunch – but my prediction is: carrots, fresh and local; peas, very possibly local; potatoes; hard to tell. But in any case, it was delicious. That little container in the upper left corner was my dessert: angel food cake and strawberries with whipped cream. Simple and perfect for my healing body and tired tummy. 

I don’t plan on another hospital visit soon, but if I have to stay overnight, I know I’ll be well fed. 

Radiologists and Selfies

'Nuff said.

Here it is again; the radiologists taking a group selfie. If I’m smiling as I go under the anesthesia, it’ll be with this in mind. 

Last time I had my head examined (literally), Doctor Intervention noticed that the aneurysm in a major artery had grown. That growth was measured in millimeters, but it was still significant growth. He recommended treatment; I agreed. 

The insurance company sat on it for as long as they could before approving the procedure. Don’t they know that school starts for teachers in two weeks? Before you say, “Um, no, they don’t know or care,” keep in mind that when a health care group takes on a school district as a client, the school calendar matters. It matters a lot. 

So, anyway, I’m having a major surgery today. By the time you read this, I may already be finished and regaining consciousness. I trust my doctor – he’s brilliant – and I hope the anesthesiologist who works with him is equally fantastic. 

Readers, I’ll fill you in when it’s over, with a minimum of TMI, I hope. Wish me luck.

Brahms and Death and what to say

Our local music community is tight knit. We may all excel in different genres of music, we may all play or sing different instruments, but the common thread of music runs strong in all of us. Indy performers, backstage technicians, classroom teachers, and more; we appreciate each other for the diverse talents and thrive on the knowledge that builds enjoyment.

When a musician dies – oh, whenever someone special and amazing passes on – I think of Brahms. In my teens I was a pretty good pianist. I loved to play Debussy, Chopin, Bach, and works by other composers. I couldn’t quite get the hang of playing Brahms. I could play the notes and handle the technique, but I couldn’t master the emotion and the expression that really gave the piece the richness that was Brahms. 

My teacher stopped me mid-phrase and began to talk. “When I was young, I didn’t know what to say at funerals. And when I was young, I couldn’t play Brahms well, either.” 

I took my hands off the keyboard and listened. 

“And then my husband died.” She was young, in her twenties, with a toddler daughter, when her husband died from a massive heart attack. “And I learned that there is nothing you can say at a funeral. All you can do is be there.” She paused. “And then, I could play Brahms.” 

This conversation happened about forty years ago. I was a teenager at the time. Despite the years, I remember it clearly. I can see the room, the other person in the conversation, and I can hear the words in her voice. I remember my initial reaction was to balk at Brahms and his connection with death. As I grew older and experienced more life, I learned to understand and enjoy the exceptional depth of Johannes Brahms’ compositions.

This conversation happened about forty years ago. I was a teenager at the time. Despite the years, I remember it clearly. I can see the room, the other person in the conversation, and I can hear the words in her voice. And that catch in my throat? Maybe it’s Brahms; maybe it’s knowing that music soothes as it allows us to grieve. Maybe it’s the bittersweet nature of musicians, the sensitivity that leads us to enrich lives of others as we enrich our own. 

Amigo’s Turn on Injured Reserve

Amigo asked me to look at a “mole” on his hip. This mole had always been there, as far as he knew, but it had started hurting. At first glance it looked like a big bug bite: raised center, red rash around it. I touched it, he flinched, and I realized there was more under the skin.

We made an appointment to see Family Doc, the guy who knows us best.  The pain had increased overnight, and the red rash had also gotten bigger. Doc gave Amigo the news: it was a cyst, the cyst was infected, and it had to be lanced and drained. He would numb the area first, and then get all the gunk out.

Oh, it wasn’t pleasant, but Amigo took it like a trooper. He managed to stay still despite the pain of the numbing agent, and then accepted a damp compress on his forehead to help him focus and relax. Doc removed what he needed, stitched the area closed, and then covered it with a piece of gauze and tape.

We’ve been back twice to have Family Doc monitor his progress. Amigo took antibiotics to kill the infection, too. At this time, I’m checking on how it’s healing and putting clean gauze on the wound each night. Eventually, he will need the cyst removed. Neither of us are looking forward to this.

Fortunately, a cyst on the hip doesn’t stop him from singing. Amigo has joined a small group in the barbershop chorus: the Mixmasters. More music is good music! or something like that.