July 31, 2013

Lazy Days of Summer?

Life's a BeachIt is hard to believe that August is upon us. Where did July go? What happened to the summer? Is it just me or is 2013 barreling by so fast you cannot catch your breath? Well, that lands me right smack in the middle of a "glitch in time" and my hypothesis that time has taken a giant leap these past couple of decades. Whether or not my oft expounded theory is correct, did you ever have a long, lazy summer? Seems like I remember those very early summers, perhaps when I was in elementary school that way, but neither long summers or the chance to be lazy endured. While I am not nearly as industrious as I might wish myself, summer always seems to be the busiest time of year except for perhaps around the holidays. From Hallowe'en, through Thanksgiving and Christmas, until we cross the finish line of the year on January 1st, there seems to be a tremendous lot of pressure to do too much, be too busy, and meet all sorts of unreachable expectations. Summer however, is not the subject of any such pressure. For me though, it always seems to be an intensively busy time. I am smiling as I say this because, of course, I am starting this post with a photo of the beach.

Water Baby
A happy me at the beach in 1950 something.
 We all got up early this morning and drove the 10 or twelve miles to meet my daughter and her family at the beach. My small granddaughter is falling in love with the sand and surf just as I did at her age, and it is a delight to watch her frolic in the waves. It lends a certain continuity to life that is reassuring when so much else has changed so greatly. Though I have lived much of my adult life in other places, I grew up here in Florida, and some of my earliest memories take place on the Atlantic shoreline. Strangely, though we moved back here from North Carolina this past fall, it took me till July to finally venture over to the beach. These have been odd, busy months, but I really can't explain to myself why it took so long to visit a place I have always loved.

Garden in a tub.
Caladiums and torenia thrive in a tub by the Garden House.
Surf and sand aside, hot weather and plentiful rain equal rampant growth. I have spent many hours clipping, pruning and pulling weeds, and I am barely keeping up with it. High summer in the garden lacks the fresh beauty of spring and early summer, but makes up for it in volume of plant matter. No matter where you live, it is the season of the "gardener", and the outdoor chore list is extensive. What with one thing and another, I didn't have the vegetable garden I hoped for this year, but I still have loads of peppers, some eggplant and cucumbers, and I am already lamenting the fading of the tomato plants. Homegrown tomatoes are one of life's sublime pleasures for me, and the pickings have become quite slim these last couple of weeks as the "dog days" settle over us. 

Zinnias bloom and thrive no matter how hot it gets.

We have several acres here at The House— a large yard surrounded by pasture on three sides. Keeping this cut and weed trimmed during this wet season is a time consuming and very hot job that cannot be delayed by any more than ten day intervals, and is better done weekly.  I love to stand back and admire the yard when it is freshly mowed and landscaped, but that is a fleeting joy. It only takes a few days for weeds to sprout and the grass to begin wildly growing and looking rough. It is a beautiful place though, whether newly manicured or slightly unkempt. I see it through eyes which remember many a former summer's splendor, but also with a "vision" of what it can be again with time and a good deal of work. We have watched this season's batch of turkey poults grow into gangly and amusing adolescents, feeding on seeds and insects in the pasture, and the cracked corn we provide them with. There are a myriad wild birds, hawks, and buzzards constantly providing an aerial ballet overhead. And at night, the deer, bane of my garden, come up to feed along with possums, raccoons and possibly armadillos. All of them leave their mark, marring the pristine beauty of our land, but providing interest nonetheless.

Farmer's Market Sweet Corn
Sweet Corn-- $10 a box at the Farmer's Market.
Of course, during gardening season, fruit and vegetables not available at other times, offer themselves in abundance. Whether from your own garden, a farmer's market or produce stand, or a friend or neighbor's yard, you need to preserve it if you are not going to use it right away. There was a time in my life when I not only kept a huge (over an acre) vegetable and herb garden, but canned, froze and otherwise preserved enough food for a family of four, and then some. I don't know how I found the Time. 

Corn- ready to be cut off of cob.
Ready to prepare for freezing.
 Putting up food is hard, time consuming work. I do not do nearly so much these days, but I still take a certain sense of satisfaction from what I do put up, and I really love making jellies and jams. I learned how to do these jobs as a teenager from my mother and grandmother, and continue to this day.  We lucked into some of the best sweet corn I have had in years this summer. I was just going to buy a dozen or two ears, have it on the cob for dinner and put the remainder in the freezer, but at $10.00 a box it was too good a buy to pass up. We ate it fresh, gave it away to family members and I still froze a half dozen bags for later. It was money and time well spent in my view.

Better Homes and Gardens CanningThough I have refrained for some time from buying magazines other than the couple I still have subscriptions to, I succumbed to temptation earlier this summer. The cover of this special Better Homes & Gardens Canning issue not only caught my eye, but beckoned me beyond my ability to resist. As I said, I love making jams and jellies, and I love finding new recipes for them.  My Mother and Stepfather, returning from a visit to their house in North Carolina, picked up a box of peaches on the way and gifted me with half of them. I made two batches of spiced jam out of them, and it was very good. On the same day, since I also was enjoying an overabundance of tomatoes at the time, I made a batch of tomato-basil jam from a recipe in the magazine. Quite good.

Peaches- about to be washed and peeled.
Time to wash the jars and sterilize  before prepping peaches.
Jelly Jars
Jars ready to be filled with hot Jam. This is second batch. Partial jar is from first.
All the Jam
Tomato-Basil Jam and Spiced Peach Jam cooling on the counter before being dated, labeled and put away.
I do seem to have spent a good deal of time in the kitchen of late. It seems that my Mom has an elderberry tree in her back yard. We had spoken of it earlier, wondering how elderberry jelly would be since neither of us had ever made it before.

They ripened a week or so ago. First, we had the adventure of trying to pick them without anything more than a stepladder and a rake to pull down branches. I am certain we, my Mom, my Son and I were a sight. It was at least ninety degrees out there, and the tree has a sprawling shrub growing beneath it which got in the way no matter how we approached it. I had on a white tank top and quickly discovered that if an elderberry lands on you, a purple spot immediately appears. We managed to get what I judged to be enough to make jelly out of, and as it turned out, there were enough of the labor intensive little jewels to make two batches of jelly. 
Elderberry juice for jelly.
Elderberry Juice-- Ready to make into jelly.

Was it worth the effort? Next year, I will bring a ladder. Why should the birds get so many of these tasty berries? The finished jelly is lovely to look at and already gaining a big fan base among family members who have gotten the chance to try it. It is reminiscent of tart wild blackberry jelly, and since I have no source for those at the moment, it makes the elderberry all the more worthwhile.

Elderberry Jelly
Elderberry Jelly-- The finished product.
I usually just use a sharpie to mark the date and flavor of the preserve on the top of the jar, but I found these round labels and wanted to try them out. I have always hated putting labels, no matter how pretty, on the jars, because I do not like having to scrape them off when it is time to reuse the jars. I have read that there are new ones out that dissolve, but I think I like labeling the lid better. On the kraft paper, I would make the fruit silhouette darker next time, but otherwise, I am quite pleased with these.

Spray Painting
Thrifted or recycled items being refurbished with a coat of paint.
Besides the yard, garden and kitchen, I manage to keep a fair number of other projects in the works also during these hot summer months. My progress on some fronts is negligible, but I keep plugging along. I pick up a fair number of items at thrift shops, as I have mentioned before, and I must say that our new venue includes many more shops to check out than we had in our small town North Carolina area. If only I had more time to explore them all. It has been pretty good pickings lately. I've found interesting baskets, tins, vintage Christmas decor, fabric, sewing accessories and other lovelies to bring home. Last week, on an outing with three of my children and two granddaughters (I am creating new generations of avid Thrifters.) I found a stash of lace that any self-respecting craft hoarder would be thrilled with.
Craft Room- Lace.
Still not sorted out. Lots of lace.

We were about to leave this particular shop, but everyone waited while I rifled through a box, searching for more frilly treasure. Unfortunately, I ran out of cash before I ran out of bags of lace. It was the end of the day and I was near my $ limit. However, for $6.00 or so, I estimate that I got at least 70 yards of assorted lace and ruffles. Not a bad haul. I still have not got it all sorted out. 

Even though we had just been to that particular shop a few days before, my youngest daughter and I swung back by while we were out a few days ago. I didn't find any more lace, but did get some very vintage sewing notions from that same box, a lovely Christmas tin with a music box attached to it, and a nostalgic wicker piece  that reminded me of unrequited childhood dreams.
Wicker doll bassinet
There it stood in the children's room of the Thrift Shop, with a price tag fluttering from beneath it. I am getting used to thrift stores that aren't so very thrifty anymore when pricing vintage merchandise, so I was expecting it to be more than I would or could pay for the piece. It was $3.00, and no matter its age, I feel that I got a very good deal. Needless to say, it followed me home, and will undoubtedly soon become a basket for yarn or other sundries (or a cat bed, if they get the chance). I have done a little research, but have yet to find a doll bassinet that is really comparable, though I have seen many that are vaguely similar.  It needs cleaned up yet. there is a great deal of dust build up in the weave. I suspect it has sat unloved or forgotten for some time. I will give it new life and purpose. 

I have enough projects lined up to take me through to next summer, no doubt, and perhaps beyond. When the weather starts to cool off this fall,
Bird houses being repainted and redecorated.
I want to get back to working on the Garden House. It needs painting, inside and out, and I have all sorts of ideas for it. In the meanwhile, my daughter and I are repainting and embellishing some of the many weathered, faded birdhouses that hung on an outside wall. We are going to hang them from the rafters inside after it is painted.

So many projects— so little time. Before I say goodbye today, I want to take a moment to thank Karen Valentine of  My Desert Cottage  again, for hosting Where Bloggers Create 2013 and for letting me participate. It was a blast. And thank all of my many visitors this past few weeks, for stopping by, and for all of the kind and supportive comments. It has been a joy. I have still not got around to nearly all of the other participants' blogs, but I am working on it. I have seen so many gorgeous web sites, and got to peak into the most fascinating  studios and workrooms. 

Hope your summer leaves a little time for lazy enjoyment. Blessings to you all.

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