Monday, October 31, 2016

Autumn Olive Jelly

We have what are called autumn olives growing on bushes in our area.  They aren't an olive at all, but instead a small, edible berry.  We went and picked a bunch recently.  They have little stems on them and a fairly chewy seed.  Because of this, I thought the easiest way to use them would be to make a jelly.

I picked out as much debris as possible and then rinsed the berries.  I just left the little stems on, as it seemed like removing every little stem would take me all day long.  Then I put them in a pot and cooked them down with about half a cup of water, mashing them with a potato masher.
 I don't have one of those sieve stand things, but I made good use of a cabinet handle and some cheesecloth for straining out the juice.  Once things cooled, I squeezed out as much juice as possible.  I got 4 cups of juice from the berries.  I brought it to a high boil with some sure-jell.  Then added 5 1/2 cups of sugar.  I returned it to a high boil and cooked it until it passed my firming test in a glass of ice water.  Then I filled jelly jars and processed in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. 
I was pleased with how it set up overnight.  It also has a really nice rosy color, which is surprising since the juice was sort of beige.  A good use of an invasive species, don't you think? 

Hope everyone has a Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

100 Cats

The saga of the desire for a cat colony continues with my twins.  They want so badly to build a barn to house all the feral kitties. 

Reid drew this picture from a book he read in school last year called Millions of Cats.  The book must have made quite an impression on him, since he drew the picture now.  I googled the book and it sounds excellent - I need to read it myself.

If you look very closely, you can see that the person by the house is also holding a cat in his arms.  I just love it!

I'm taking Friday off so I will see you next week!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mutant Sweet Potatoes

Where's my gardening experts?  I need some knowledge!  My sweet potatoes all came out looking like bears clawed them in the middle of their growth.  Perhaps they tangled with some zombies?  Could this be from getting too much rain this summer during a key part of the growing season?  Or is it something in my soil balance?

The good news is that once I peel all that mess, they still taste good underneath. I roasted wedges in olive oil and herbs and they were fantastic. The bad news is that they are not storing for very long (maybe two weeks) before getting soft inside.  They aren't staying firm like they should.  So if you have any great ideas for preserving them let me know. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bobby Goes for a Ride

On Saturday afternoon I was playing mancala with Reid and he suggested we take Bobby for a ride to see if he would like it.  As you may know, Bobby isn't your typical feline, as he often goes hiking and he also enjoys playing in the snow.

Reid, Bobby, and I piled into the car.  We drove very slowly along the road.  Bobby ran all over the car, looking out the windows.  He never started panting or yowling like some of my other cats have done in the past.  I think he was a little nervous about it, but not too terribly bothered. 

Probably, if we took Bobby for rides more often, he'd grow to enjoy it.  Because you know, taking your cat for a ride is a perfectly normal way to spend your Saturday afternoon, right?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Salem Half Marathon Race Report 2016

On Saturday I ran the inaugural Salem Half Marathon.  They also had a kids' race (1 mile) and the boys came along to do their first race.

I arrived in plenty of time to pick up my packets as well as the boys' (I knew exactly what to expect and where to go because I'd had helpful email communication about the race in the days leading up to it).  This process went very smoothly - no lines; all three races (there was also an 8K) were divided and organized.  They had plenty of safety pins for numbers, and all racers received a nice race t-shirt (the half marathon shirts were long-sleeved technical shirts, the boys got long sleeved cotton shirts). 

I don't wear a watch when I run, but it seemed as though the race started right on time.  They had a huge firetruck parked at the top of the hill with a large American flag hanging down for the American Anthem.  The first mile was a little crowded but things thinned out quickly.  The first hill started at mile 1, and there were hills all through the race.  Even the last mile had a doozy of a hill!  Definitely a rolling course that you would want to hill train to run.

This race was so well-organized.  They had tons of volunteers, water stations, and from mile 5 on portajohns.  They also gave out Gu gels around mile 9.  Every mile was marked (very helpful for me since I do not wear a Garmin) and there were also time clocks at a couple of spots throughout the race.  The race goes through all the high points of Salem - it passes the duck pond, the golf course, the downtown area (it starts and finishes at the Farmer's Market), the Civic Center, neighborhoods full of historic homes, and Roanoke College.  Of course around every curve you get scenic views of the Blue Ridge mountains.  Also interesting is that you will experience a variety of terrain - while the majority of it is on pavement - at times you will run on dirt, grass, and brick pavers. 

I am training for a long distance, slow race next month, so I wanted to be cautious not to injure myself during this race.  I had just done a 26 mile training run on the Sunday before my race, and was concerned about some foot pain I was having afterwards.  As a result, I treated the race as a tempo training run and pushed myself, but did not race all out.  I tried to make sure I kept some healthy distance between myself and the people who tend to be around my speed. 

You can tell as I crossed the finish line that I enjoyed the race and ran with some conservation (most of the time at the finish line I look like I'm dying).  My mom caught this picture with her cell phone (she managed to watch the boys race and then keep them entertained while I ran).

The finisher's area was great - they had Chick Fil A sandwiches, fruit, Gatorade, and water.  There was a band called Uptown (which my boys loved) as well as massage and stretching and granola bars.  My time of 2:02 was good enough to earn third in my age group, so in addition to the very nice finisher's medal that everyone receives, I also got a trophy. 

This was a great race!  I loved the course and had a wonderful overall experience.  Would I run it again?  Absolutely.

Disclaimer:  I received free entry into the Salem Half Marathon for review purposes.  The opinions above are all my own. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Carvins Cove

I took this cell phone picture overlooking Carvins Cove when I did my 20 mile trail run on the Appalachian Trail.  It seems like some mythical world, doesn't it?  Not like something you'd see in Virginia.
Carvins Cove is the water reservoir where Roanoke City residents get their water.  They allow canoeing and kayaking, but no motor boats or swimming. 

By some play of light, this picture ended up in silhouette, even though when I took it at 3:30 in the afternoon, there was still plenty of light out. 

Readers, have you found any mythical worlds in your state lately?

Friday, October 14, 2016

20 Mile Adventure Run on the Appalachian Trail

In training for a race in November I'm trying to put in as much time on my feet as possible.  I thought maybe I should try to do a run that would prove to be very challenging, in an effort to build up resilience and confidence.  I've always wanted to run a 20 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that goes from Route 311 to Troutville, passing by a number of scenic overlooks.  I have backpacked the stretch before, but have taken two days to do so.  A normal 20 mile run for me on pavement would take under 4 hours, and I needed to spend more time on my feet than that for training purposes.  It takes a significantly longer time to cover 20 miles on the AT due to the terrain, but it would be a fun and novel way to do it. 

I decided to do the first 3.5 miles with the boys, as it went to McAfee's Knob (some say the most photographed location on the AT - and indeed, it was crowded up top with people and their selfie sticks) and since it was uphill and rocky in places, I wouldn't have been able to run much of it anyhow.  We got an early start, as the day was expected to hit 90 degrees.

Reid stuck with me and we kept a nice pace to the top.  Pierce and Cort quickly lagged behind, and Paul stayed back with them. 
Unfortunately, Reid and I had to kill almost an hour on top before the others caught up!  I wasn't planning on such a long break and was itching to move on, as I knew I had many miles to cover in the heat.  Once Paul and Pierce and Cort arrived, I headed right out on my own.  I carried with me a small Camelbak day pack that included first aid supplies (including a few meds like electrolyte pills, ginger chews, and ibuprofen), headlamp, knife and firestarter, map, water filter, food and water.  I knew some of those things I was unlikely to need, but I wanted to have them just in case things didn't go as planned.

My plan was to run any part that wasn't severely rocky or steep uphill (those parts I would walk).  After McAfees, I had a decent runnable stretch before I had to walk up the section to Tinker Cliffs.  It was getting really hot by this point and I was feeling queasy and concerned I wouldn't have enough water for the amount of heat I was experiencing.  I stopped for a minute to enjoy the view (if you're curious, I wore Hoka Challenger trail shoes with running gaiters over top to keep out debris), check my water situation, and take a liquid lemonade energy form called Glukos.  I only had about 20 ounces of water left and wasn't even halfway.  With temps nearing 90 at this point, I knew I'd be rationing.  I had a LifeStraw in my pack and planned to drink from streams at any places I found them. 

Shortly after Tinker Cliffs, were some fun rock formations I scrambled up and through. 

I was able to run a bit after the rocks and was headed downhill.  I started to feel a little better and was able to take a Gu.  I took a picture here, at the halfway point of my run. 

Not far from halfway, I came to a trail shelter.  I asked the people at the picnic tables if there was water, and they pointed me downhill.  Unfortunately, it had been really dry for weeks and the stream was almost dried up.  Still, beggars cannot be choosers.  I whipped out the LifeStraw, which filters out everything but viruses (which are extremely unlikely in the North American backwoods), and hoped for the best, as the water there wasn't even really a trickle.  I drank as much as I could.

I had so many beautiful overlooks along the way.  The next section had many runnable areas.  It was very hot and I got so thirsty.  I continued to feel queasy off and on, but tried to take a Gu when I thought I could stomach it (throughout the day I only ate 7 Gus and was unable to eat any real food - this is definitely because of the extreme heat that day). 

At one point I came around a bend and heard a loud scritchscritchscritch sound.  What on earth?  It was two black bear cubs sliding their way down a tree when they heard me coming. They were right there!  I smiled so big as I watched them run off.  Then I looked for the mother.  I found her on a ridge above me.  She and I eyed one another warily for a moment (I did have mace in my shorts pockets in case of emergency).  Then I walked down the path until I was out of her sight before I started running again. 
 As thirsty as I was, I didn't encounter another water source until a tenth of a mile from the finish. A nine mile dry stretch. So I got dehydrated because I didn't want to drink what water I did have too fast.  With such high temperatures I really needed double the amount of water I had.  I was even seeing double a bit towards the end.  The views of Carvins Cove were amazing though, and gave me a sense of elation despite the hard conditions.  Even though I had discomfort, I never felt like I was in danger of not finishing, and I kept in touch with friends via text throughout.  Most of the time I seemed to have a cell phone signal. 

The final miles were very runnable and mostly downhill.  I had a sense that my downhill muscles would be trashed the next day.  I had been on the trail over 8 hours (if you include the hour break when I waited for the boys to catch up in the beginning) and my feet and muscles were all feeling it.  I fantasized about buying the biggest size fountain drink I could at the Exxon station beside where I had left my car so many hours earlier (which was exactly what I did - with lots of ice too!). 

I loved this run and hope to have the opportunity to do it again someday.  Next time though?  I'm definitely picking a day with cooler temps! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Helicopter in the Yard

A few weeks ago the utility company was trimming trees in our region.  They asked if they could use our pasture for refueling through the day.  The horses were in a different field at the time, so we didn't mind if they used the hay field.  There aren't a lot of open spaces in our region for them to land a helicopter because the terrain is so hilly and wooded.

All day long the helicopter would stop by every hour or so to get fuel from a truck in our pasture.  Our dog, Bo, made best friends with the guy doing the fueling and stayed by his side all day.  I think Bo wants to be a helicopter pilot when he grows up. 

The boys were disappointed that the helicopter was gone by the time they got home from school.  They had hoped to be able to sit on the porch and watch it while they did their homework. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

No Books at the Book Sale

A couple of weeks ago I took the boys to a used book sale at a local church.  They had thousands of books that had been donated and were selling them to benefit their children's programs.  Prices were perfect - 25 cents per paperback, and if you bought 4 you got one free.  I gave each of my boys a bag to stash books and told them to go find whatever they wanted.

The twins headed straight to the well-stocked kid section and started going through books.  They found all sorts of fun titles like "How to Do Your Homework without Throwing Up" and "Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed!".  Pierce went there and looked through, but was disappointed he didn't find any books in the Maximum Ride series, which he has been reading for the past six months.  He came over to where I was looking through books and said, "Mom, there's no good books here.  I can't find any books in the Maximum Ride series."  I looked up at the room stuffed with thousands of books and said, "Pierce, there are so many books here.  You have to give them a chance.  Look at the backs of the books and read what they are about.  You can't tell me out of all these books you can't find a single one you'd like."  There was an elderly gentleman next to me during this whole exchange.  Pierce scampered off.

Five minutes later, he came running back, "Mom!  Mom!  I found the perfect book!  It's just what I wanted!"

This is the book he had:

The elderly gentleman next to me couldn't help chuckling a bit as he saw the book that was causing my nine year old such glee. 

And now the Electrical Wiring book has a proud spot on Pierce's bedroom bookshelf.  I'm not sure what he's planning to wire, but I sure hope he runs it by me first...

Friday, October 7, 2016

Spicy Stuff - Candied Jalapenos

Last Spring I picked up a few jalapeno plants at a flea market.  I gave two to a neighbor, and kept two for myself.  Peppers tend to come in fairly late in my garden.  But I've had enough jalapenos to make salsa several times.  And a few weeks ago I picked a bunch to make candied jalapenos. 

I'd never made candied jalapenos before (I often make jalapeno jelly though).  Cooking up jalapenos kind of makes the kitchen smell like it's been maced.  I love jalapenos and most spicy things, so it's worth it.

I didn't get a huge yield (next year I'll plant more) but I did get a couple of jars of candied jalapenos.  They are delicious!  Perfect on cheese and crackers.

Readers, do you like spicy foods?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Long Lost Thanksgiving book

I've always loved to read, and have kept the local library busy throughout my life.  When I was twelve or so, I was at the library digging through books and trying to find a book I hadn't read before.  I pulled out a book that I thought had an especially dopey cover, but sounded interesting. 

I was surprised how quickly I was pulled into the story, and it was a book that made me laugh a few times, and in the end, was one of the only books that made me cry when I was a kid. 

For years I tried to find this book again.  The problem I came up against was that my memory had changed the book.  I was remembering it was about a boy who was trying to save the Thanksgiving turkey.  In reality, it was about a boy trying to save the Thanksgiving goose.  One of my psychology students helped me figure this out recently when we were chatting during a break (not sure how we got on the subject!), and I ordered the book. 

It was still a book I loved reading.  I plan to read it to the boys in a couple of years.  I know this book will make them laugh, too.  It has some really great moral messages, too, about kindness for others and the importance of family bonds and hard work.

Readers, was there a book as a child that made you laugh and cry? 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Using What We Have

I love recipes where I can use the foods we harvest ourselves.  I found a recipe on Pinterest recently for lemon raspberry zucchini bread that was perfect with a few modifications for this purpose. 

I switched out wineberries for the raspberries, as we had some in the freezer that we foraged from our land in July.

I switched out shredded rampicante squash for the zucchini, as I had a ton from the garden that needed to be used up.

I used eggs taken from the hens we raised from chicks.

Now if only I could figure out how to grow a lemon tree on the property.  Then I'd be all set!

As for the bread?  I could not stop eating it.  So good!