The One About Picking Strawberries on a June Day

Personally, there are few things I find quite so satisfying as a couple of hours spent in the strawberry patch. The orchard where I go to pick fresh berries is situated on the side of a rolling hill one county south of home. It is, in fact, the place where the generally flat terrain of my county gives way to the roller coaster that marks the approach to Ohio’s Amish Country.

When you stand among the rows of strawberry plants and look south, you are treated to the view of a deep, lush valley. A dairy farm sits across the way; railroad tracks mark the very bottom of the slope. The sky is a perfect dome overhead, suggesting that this orchard and this dairy farm and you are all contained inside an enormous terrarium.

I am not good at living in the moment – my head is too full of worries and what-ifs. Of plans and lists. But in this strawberry patch, I am completely present. The sun warms the berries, which can’t help but send their sweet scent into the air. Despite the occasional training passing down in the valley and a small plane heading for the community airport, it is quiet. Quiet, except for the voices of children and moms.

The children: they bound out of the car, heading eagerly for the rows of plants. Moms call them back to get their buckets, to make sure they have their sun hats, to adjust their sunglasses. And now the joy of discovery, like an Easter Sunday egg hunt. “Momma! Look at this one!” “Look, Mommy! I found one!”

The moms: There is patience in their voices. This is not a hurried trip to the grocery store; this is an outing. This is like going to the beach or going on a picnic. “Oh, isn’t that one beautiful? Look how big it is!” They gently remind their offspring to only pick the red ones and laugh as more berries go in mouths than in buckets.

There’s another sound to note: the sound of a berry hitting the bottom of an empty bucket. The buckets are plastic, and the berries make a distinct “thunk” as they land. The sound only lasts a short while and disappears as the first berries provide a cushion for the rest. Come to think of it, there is one more sound. A strawberry makes a distinctive snap when separated from its stem. The snap of the smaller berries has a higher pitch – “ping!”

If the only strawberries you have ever purchased come already picked, you don’t know about the growing habits of these plants. Stalks rise from among the leaves, a cluster of stems at the end. The berries hang their heads, certainly not in shame but because the stems cannot support the weight of the fruit. If you are an efficient picker of strawberries, you grasp the cluster in one hand, turn it up to face you, and pluck each berry – snap! – with the other hand. This can be accomplished while sitting or kneeling beside the row. If you are young and have a strong back, you stand and straddle the row.

But efficiency isn’t necessarily the goal. Filling the buckets can take as long as you want it to. And when it is a perfect day in June, it should last as long as possible.

The world is in turmoil. The news most days is never good. The soul thirsts for peace. But despite our fears for the future, hope can be found in spending time among green things, in putting our fingers in the rich loam of a garden, in planting seeds and awaiting their promise. Hope can be found on the side of a hill, picking strawberries, on a day in June.

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New hobby — like I need another one

So I helped our teen services librarian with a craft program the other week, and now I’m hooked. Paper making is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require much upfront investment. The $9.00 blender – yeah, this you really do have to have – was from the hospice thrift store. Created my own mould and deckle out of canvas stretchers. Screening from Home Depot wasn’t pricey – and I can always use the rest to mend the screens that Killian The Hell Hound has spent the summer destroying. Plastic tub for pulp was 3 bucks at Marc’s. Paper for pulping is recycled packing paper that comes in the boxes of books at work. It’s plain, off-white newsprint. Nice stuff that it seems a shame to just throw away.
My intent for my first home project is to include leaves/grasses when pulping the newsprint and then embedding Queen Anne’s Lace before pressing and drying the handmade paper. I’m going on the assumption that the leaves/grass will make the paper a pale green.
Now, to shake off the end-of-the-week inertia and gather up supplies Will post photos of finished project.

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Cursing the darkness

I hate fluorescent light.  I hate the “quality” and color of fluorescent light. I hate the flicker and the glare on my computer screen, so I’ve had the custodian at work take out the bulbs in the fixture over my desk.

I hate that hotels are using the compact fluorescent bulbs in bedside lamps. They’re fine if all I want them for is groping around for my glasses in the morning, but for reading in bed, they stink.

I hate that the government is mandating the demise of incandescent bulbs. (See this article from US News and World Report: http://www.usnews.com/articles/business/economy/2007/12/19/faq-the-end-of-the-light-bulb-as-we-know-it.html). Ok, they’re not energy efficient so they’re bad for the environment, so we’re going to save the whales one light bulb at a time.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I went ahead and purchased a compact fluorescent bulb. The thing cost 7 or eight bucks and came in a hard plastic “case” and cardboard sleeve. I was going to try it out in my bedside lamp, ’cause for me, that’s the acid test. Now, I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of trying to extract a purchased item from its theft-proof wrappings — it usually involves scissors or a utility knife, kevlar gloves for protection against the resulting sharp plastic edges, safety goggles, etc. Can you guess what happened?

This damned expensive light bulb broke inside its plastic container. Now the fun really begins, because you can’t just throw the damned thing away. See this link to a fact sheet on mercury safety, ’cause, yup, the things have mercury in ’em. http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf

No, I didn’t immediately air out the house, place the pieces in a glass jar with metal lid, vacuum, empty the vacuum, put the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag. I did not take the broken pieces and clean-up materials to the solid waste plant in Westfield. The next time I vacuumed, I didn’t turn off the air conditioner, open the windows, and leave the AC off for 15 minutes after vacuuming. (Special note: See the part about the solid waste plant? If the bulb had simply burned out rather than breaking, I would still have been expected to hand carry the bulb to the dump.)

The Amish have the right idea. Better to light a candle than curse the compact fluorescent bulb.

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Bountiful harvest

We’ve had a vegetable garden since we bought this house in 1978. In fact, we dug the garden before moving day since it was early June, and we didn’t want to lose any of the season. That same plot, amended over the years to compensate for the heavy native clay soil, has kept us in tomatoes and beans, mostly, for better than 30 years.

I approached gardening with a lot more fervor this season, after listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Eating locally (becoming a “locavor”) and frequenting farmers’ markets are becoming new habits. The frightening rise in the prices of everything has caused me to commit to thrift in a whole new way. One of the concepts one takes away from Kingsolver’s book is that eating locally doesn’t have to mean going without. In fact, embraced fully, eating locally can mean eating more richly and with more pleasure.

At first, I found myself stricken in the aisles of the grocery store as I tried to juggle eating locally with eating inexpensively with eating to fit my diet. But as the weeks have gone by, it’s become easier. Eating locally can mean choosing chicken in the grocery store that came from farms two counties away rather than from the national mega-farms. An excellent jarred spaghetti sauce is made an hour away. An equally excellent commercial pizza sauce is made two hours away.

You can define local eating as you wish. Kingsolver suggests you think about the miles and fuel spent to get the food to you; her family stopped eating bananas and satisfied their need for fruit with the peaches, cherries, apples, and berries available on their own farm or from area growers. They did make one concession on coffee, recognizing that coffee was, for them, truly a staple item. So they elected to only purchase fair trade coffee, an item that’s even available in my local grocery stores.

As I’ve moved through the summer, inspired by Kingsolver’s book, I’ve taken up cheesemaking, bread baking, and pickling. I replaced an ancient chest freezer with an energy-efficient one. I’ve started buying bison (available about 12 miles away) for its health benefits. As the freezer fills with not only the yield from my own garden, but also what I purchase at the farmers’ market and roadside stands, I feel as though I’m moving us in the right direction…economically, environmentally, and healthfully.

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Woo hoo…Number 666!

Guess what I got to do on Saturday — be model #666 for Franklin’s 1,000 Knitters project!

Talk, talk. Knit, knit. Snap, snap...fun!

Thanks to Jackie and all her helpers at The Wool Gathering in Kennett Square, the experience was well-organized and a ton of fun! I arrived about 45 minutes after they opened, and was number 42 in line. Jackie had chairs set up out front so we could sit in the sunshine and knit and chat. The shop is intimate but lovely, and they set Franklin up near the front window. There were cookies and brownies and Philadelphia soft pretzels…yum! Oh, and the yarn was luscious, too. I bought two skeins of Regia sock wool and a few buttons I couldn’t resist (two sheep buttons and one very special Sculpey-type button I will now need to knit a project around.)

I waited only about 45 minutes or so until it was my turn. Franklin is charming and cute and proves the adage that all the “good ones” are either gay or married. He told me I was knitter 666 and even offered to let me switch if I had a problem with that. I figured somebody had to be #666, so what the heck. Sometimes I am a beastly knitter! We chatted about my 400+ mile trip to participate and what else I planned for the visit. And as we wrapped up, we both laughed over our respective addiction to a particular Ravelry thread that Franklin called “cheap crack.” BTW, for those who wondered over on Franklin’s blog…the scarf seemed to be about 8-10 feet long. Little hard to tell for certain, because he has it partially rolled up. I knit at least two rows, but I admire the folks who had added some pattern during their shoots. My hands were sweating so much, I only barely mustered the two rows of garter!

Some of us then gathered ’round to share Ravelry gossip, and I met Michelle, a delightful young actress from Virginia. We ended up checking out other stores in Kennett Square, including the Mushroom Shop (gifts and fresh mushrooms, plus a small mushroom museum, since KSQ is the center of the mushroom industry. )

Lots of fun and worth every mile of the PA turnpike to be part of it!

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Wiggle-waggle wash day

Murphy needed a bath. Actually, Murphy needed a full day of beauty, but working a trip to the groomer’s into a full work week just wasn’t happening. Plus, frankly, dog grooming is kind of low on the list of household priorities when there’s only one income. However, the fates aligned to make payday land the same week that I ran into Adam the Groomer at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. What’s Adam got that other groomers don’t? This:

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Cool, huh? Becky arrived around 4:15, took Murphy out to the van, and an hour or so later, brought him back to the door, all fluffy and gorgeous. See?

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One very handsome puppy!

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Uh, yeah…it snowed!

Well, that was quite a weekend! It didn’t really rival the Blizzard of ’78, but it was still a heck of a lot of snow. Too lazy to write the thousand words, so here are some pix:

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From the front porch

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Front sidewalk. Looks like 10-12 inches.

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I guess this is why we didn’t have mail delivery Saturday!

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The backyard, Saturday evening. Looks like meringue!

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Of course, Guinness had to get right into it!

Sunday was sunny and the snow was beautiful. Monday, we had a few small snow showers, but nothing stuck around. Today, the morning began with dense fog. Thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday. I think the only things we’ve missed lately are locusts and frogs.

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