Taming the Book Beast

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Back in January, my daughter Rainy called me and asked, “Mom do you think you have 10,000 books?” I know I have a lot of books, but the precise amount was something I’d never considered. Her question took me by surprise. “No,” I replied, “probably more like just 7,000.” A little while later I decided to look through my books and count—or at least estimate—how many I actually have. When I estimated over 3,000 in one room alone, I realized that I had a serious amount of books. I did, indeed, possess over 10,000 volumes. I called Rainy and told her that. I also added, “And I need to tithe them.” Then and there I’d committed myself to getting rid of a thousand books.

The next day was Sunday, and in Relief Society, our church’s women’s meeting, the sisters were invited to share their New Year’s resolutions. The usual get in shape and lose weight things were mentioned. Then there was a lull in the sharing. I raised my hand and told my book experience. There was a quiet intake of breath (the ladies were far to kind to gasp out loud) as I talked about getting rid of far more volumes than many of them even owned!

Going public meant I actually had to carry this out.

The vast majority of my books are paperback children’s books. Picture books, chapter books, junior and teen fiction. I’ve been a “teacher” doing monthly Scholastic book orders for well over 25 years. Over the years I’ve bought a few books and “earned” quite a few with my teacher rewards. I also have books that I’ve been given or bought at yard sales and thrift shops. I’m an admitted book magnet.

Finding the first two hundred books was easy. I weeded out duplicates and books I had no interest in reading—mainly television and movie tie-ins. I put these new/unread books into cardboard boxes and stored them in my garage. For the past 10 years I’ve given out books as well as treats on Halloween. It’s fun to be known as the neighborhood “book lady.” I now had enough books to give away for the next five years! Wow, 200 books down as I entered February.

I slacked off on the book giving during the spring, and when April began with only 50 more books added to the “to be donated” box, I knew I needed to step things up. I was able to donate a box full to our local library for summer reading prizes for the pre-teen and teen programs.

It’s now early June and I’m working on finding my 5th 100. The year’s nearly half over, I’ve given away nearly half my commitment of books.

There’s a good feeling about letting go of things you no longer need. There’s a good feeling about seeing a child’s smile as they embrace and cherish one of my books. It’s just a few baby steps in clearing out over two decades worth of stuff, but even baby steps, taken in the right direction, will eventually get you to your goal.

Pondering Productive Provident Living

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Here it is, nearly the last day of December, and I’m thinking and writing about preserving produce! Well, due to an unnaturally long (but highly appreciated) fall, I was picking the last of my tomatillos and jalapenos around Thanksgiving and canning salsa the end of November. I was drying apples well into December. I wish I’d taken a photo of all the bags of fruit I had dried, but now most of them are gone; given as Christmas gifts to family and friends.

All summer I had been pondering this provident living thing—producing and providing for your family. Leaders of our church encourage us to get out of debt and live as self-sufficiently as possible. Growing, then canning, freezing, drying garden produce is a big part of this.

All summer I wondered how a single mom can work AND keep up with the home production thing. Garden? Check! Orchard? Check! Chickens? Check! Bees? Check! Goats? Ummm… not yet. In spite of all these resources, I was feeling like I couldn’t keep up with the food preservation, that I was somehow lacking. I think a lot of single moms feel this way. Some married moms do, too.

However as I, just now, the morning of December 30, sliced a half-dozen pineapples to dehydrate, I realized that bit by bit I had actually accomplished a LOT of food preservation this season.

Canning was actually easier when I had a house full of kids. Every couple of weeks we’d have a canning day where we’d make bottle after bottle of salsa. Get a dozen hands helping each other out and you can make a lot of salsa! Get some friends to help and it gets even better! Fall canning included the incentive of a day off school to help with canning. (Homeschooling was a great boon for us!)

With the kids pretty much grown and gone (but still wanting home-made food) it has taken some creative means to accomplish the canning. First off, I take it a product at a time. I don’t think of everything I need to do, just what I need to do today. Or tomorrow, or next Tuesday. Blue-ice packs and towels can buy you a day or two. Second, lower your standards. I’m not saying compromise safety—NEVER do that. But don’t worry if your food won’t take a blue ribbon at the county fair. Just get it into the jars and onto those cool dark shelves.

Get help. A neighbor came to help me can applesauce. We spent about 5 hours cooking, grinding, canning, and netted 35 qts. She brought her own jars, I provided everything else. She took ten, I kept 25. Another day, one of my daughters came down to help. My son is superb at grinding tomatillos and jalapenos. We work together. His part takes about an hour and a half and I can do the rest myself. With an early start, I can process over 2 dozen pints before I have to leave to work at 1pm. An early start and only doing 1 or 2 canner loads in a day make it possible to preserve a good amount of produce before (or after) work.

That leads to my biggest success. Doing lots of small batches. Here’s where drying  works so well. In the heat of the summer, I can dry apricot leather outside. By late August, the sun isn’t quite high enough to dry peaches, so I use a dehydrator. It takes about a half hour to prepare a dehydrator load of fruit. I put it on in the morning for 12 hours, then at night I take it off and put on another load. Each dehydrator load fills a quart size freezer bag. If I’m really diligent, I get a dozen bags a week!

In this simplistic manner, bit by bit, I’ve managed to preserve quite a few things. Generally I freeze: peas, green beans, corn, peaches, apricots, nectarines, strawberries, bananas (most, but not everything comes from my garden), peppers, blackberries,

I bottle apricots, peaches, grape juice, green and red salsas,

I dry apricot leather (I grind up different fruits and make a variety of fruit leathers), peaches, plums, pineapple (we don’t like it sugar-coated), tomatoes.

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This post hasn’t been particularly entertaining, but I hope it’s been practical and helpful. Most of all, I really hope this gives you hope and the desire to try. It’s not hard. Just slice up things, put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and put them out in the sun—on top of a picnic table or car works well. I’m a minimalist when it comes to cooking and canning—keep it simple, quick, and healthy! And if you have any food preservation questions, just ask!

I’m really looking forward to the next two months, the months where we can rest, relax, and restore a bit. Cold weather, rain or snow, is God’s way of telling me that it’s time to stay inside, light a fire in the woodstove, grab a bowl of dried apples (or dove chocolate), and curl up with a good book.

How To and How NOT To Prune a Tree

While I enjoy remarking and rhapsodizing on the world around me, there are on occasion, certain practicalities that must be attended to.

I am an arborist by trade. It’s one of my many trades. While I may be a “Jill of all trades, master of none,” I was an excellent apprentice to a wonderful arborist for seven years, so I feel qualified to share a bit of practical information on tree care.

Last spring I attended a library convention in Denver. I stayed at a nice hotel, but was dismayed and discouraged every time I saw this poor little tree that was engaged in a valiant struggle to beautify the courtyard area beneath our front door.

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Someone has not dealt kindly with this tree. The branch stubs are ugly, unnecessary, and in poor style and taste. They are unhealthy for the tree. The only appropriate word that comes to mind is “amputation.” Ouch!

Below, I’ve marked in red, the pruning cuts that I would make to this tree. (Unfortunately I wasn’t able to connect with hotel management to share some suggestions.)

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When pruning a branch, it’s best to cut it back to where it connects with the larger branch (or trunk) and remove it in a smooth manner. The thin layer just under the bark is the cambium layer, which is where the tree’s living, growing tissue is. That cambium layer is able to heal a cut if it’s done properly and closely to where it flows.

Look at the round areas that the two green arrows are pointing to. Those are the healing wounds of properly pruned branches—cut close to the trunk. Note how the tree is growing over those wounds. Each will eventually close up. This is how the cambium layer is heals the tree. It travels in the shortest possible path. It can NOT travel around protruding stubs. Eventually the stub will die and dry and become a pathway for bugs and pathogens to infect the tree.

In addition to being healthier, this properly pruned tree would have much smoother, graceful lines. I would also cut off any dead branches in the upper right hand area (in front of the door.) The double stub in the center of the tree actually has small branches growing out of it. I would leave those for now, hoping that they will grow and fill in the middle section of tree. If they don’t grow, I’d cut the stubs off, smoothly to the branch in a year or two. It can take several years to prune and shape a tree that has been neglected or badly damaged. You don’t want to take too much off the “crown” or branching area of the tree—it’s generally safe to remove up to 1/3 of the crown branches each year.

People ask when is the best time to prune a tree. Roy, my tree-whispering mentor, said, “any time the saw is sharp,” meaning any time is good. That said, there are some times that are better or worse for pruning. It depends on the tree. Fruit trees need it in spring, and can also be pruned after the fruit is gathered. Shade trees can be pruned at nearly any time. Winter is good because you can see the basic “skeleton” or structure of the tree. However it’s difficult to tell a dead branch from a dormant one. You also don’t have to deal with the weight of the leaves in winter or early spring. Pruning a maple in very early spring will show sap loss through the cuts.

You can learn a lot about proper pruning from books at the library or online. University Extension Services are reliable resources. Or you can call a friendly arborist. Whatever you do, don’t allow anyone to leave ugly stubs on your tree. It’s sloppy and lazy work and painful for the poor tree that has to wear such scars through no fault of its own.

Why I Write (or Enjoying the Journey, Mostly)

“Sometimes the best path may be the unbeaten path.”

A friend recently told me that I have “a gift to express in written words meaningful thoughts, feelings, and events.”

I actually think I really do. When I write I can take as long as I need to find the right word, to go back again and again (and sometimes even again) to fix and polish my sentences until they say what I am truly hoping that they will say.

When I write I feel like I am a bit more graceful, eloquent, intelligent, thoughtful, and knowledgeable than I am in real life. The silent spaces in my written communication aren’t uncomfortable or embarrassing; they aren’t filled with nervous ramblings, in reality those awkward verbal gaps are unseen. (You will never know how long it took me to write this!) When I write, my impetuous impulsivity has time to mellow and mature.

 

Perhaps by writing a little more I will talk (and ramble) a little less. I will be able to take you more directly to my point, and spend a bit less time lost in my circumlocuitous verbal wanderings. (1)

 

(1) Yes, footnotes are allowed. Encouraged, in fact. My spell checker does not like the word “circumlocuitous.” Merriam, Webster, and Britannica do not recognize it. However Wiktionary does. And Butler does. So there. It’s an excellent word. Use it, with knowledge and with pride. (2)

(2) Is it permissible for a footnote to be footnoted? I say yes, so here goes. In fact, I can already tell that this is going to be a perfect example of my circumlocuitous verbal wandering. You want to know what circumlocuitous actually means? My dad would tell you, “Look it up in the dictionary.” Since it’s not found in the dictionary, I’ll give you a break and define it. It’s the adjectival form of circumlocution which means (in my terms) “talking around.” (circum=around/encircling, locution=speaking/talking). It’s like getting close to what you’re trying to say but without quite nailing it. (Remembering, though, that close is just fine when it comes to hand grenades or horseshoes.) Or, in my case, verbally wandering around, picking up and discovering new words, thoughts, and random other things, and finally getting back to the point I was starting to make a few hundred words back and, by golly, remembering the original point I was trying to make and actually making it! Britannica gives this definition: “periphrasis grammar also called circumlocution the use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression; a roundabout or indirect manner of writing or speaking.” This is a wonderful definition because it not only defines circumlocution well but, for no cost at all, gives us a wonderful new synonym—periphrasis! Wow, two outstanding words for the price of one. And I just learned something new—periphrasis.  (I love learning new things!)

So there you have it, a perfect example of the power of writing and of editing. If I were editing this little article I’d completely toss the footnotes, giving you 181 words of thoughtful expression, dispensing with these additional 343 words, but leaving you to wonder and wander about “circumlocuitous” all by yourself.

So, what do you think?

Gracious Gardeners

Nearly every town in our area has “their” Days. There’s Payson’s “Onion Days,” Lindon Days, American Fork’s “Steel Days,” and our own “Pleasant Grove Strawberry Days.” The latter two cities held their festivities recently, including Garden Tours of local homeowners’ yards and gardens.

There’s something very lovely, beautiful, and gracious about being allowed to wander through someone’s garden. It’s like they’re opening and revealing a piece of their heart to you. It’s a gift—given with graciousness and received with gratitude.

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A lot of sweat, hard work, and, yes, money goes into a garden. And a lot of hopes and dreams.

 

 

Many of the gardens seem finished, although everyone knows that as a living entity, a garden is never truly complete. Like our own lives, gardens are works in progress.

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I loved visiting the gardens. I loved meeting the homeowners and listening to their stories. The range of gardens was awesome, unique, and impressive. One “garden” was a 50 acre alfalfa farm! What a delight to learn the history of this homestead and how the current owners had turned it into a working farm and gathering place for their extended family. Another garden was the tiny backyard on a hillside parcel. Yet these folks had managed to turn their tiny spot into an area with nooks and crannies where their grandchildren could play and friends and family could relax and visit.

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One family, obviously reptile enthusiasts, had a large goldfish pond, guarded by a large cement boa constrictor. Another home’s hidden treasure was an antique water wheel. I enjoyed the outdoor aviary in one garden—the parakeets and lovebirds reminded me of the many feathered friends my family had raised over the years. Another garden had the most awesome chicken coop. My envy quickly turned to inspiration as I studied it in the fading evening light.

I loved seeing efficient food production areas. I loved the spaces where families could gather. I loved massive majestic trees, and tiny fairy gardens. I loved smelling a wife’s favorite flowers, and visiting an angelic memorial to a departed daughter. I loved seeing these pictorial stories, each of which is worth far more than the proverbial thousand words.

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Entering a garden really is like entering the heart and soul of a fellow human being.

 

 

Sashaying with a Snake

The other day I took a little hike up a nearby canyon before work. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to walk in the mountains before a long day in a building. (The library where I work is a nice building, but it’s still inside.) I enjoyed the freshness of early morning breezes, of seeing  the newly risen sun shining on the canyon walls and the valley below. Rock walls on my left and steep drops on my right were powerful and beautiful. I loved being able to look down and survey so much beauty below me. Although my legs walked me up the trail, at times my mind’s eye allowed me to soar, just a bit, over the canyon below.

It’s difficult to be in a timeless place while on a deadline, and I was so immersed in enjoying the present that looking at my watch gave me a jolt. I had to be to work in 45 minutes and I had a 30 minute walk back down the trail. I reluctantly, but quickly, turned and headed back.

Walking around a rock where the trail was a sheer cliff above and a steep drop below, I was startled to see…

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this snake! Not a rattler, but serpentine nonetheless; it was basking in the cool shade of the trail. Leaping over it was not an option–my mind’s-eye wings wouldn’t be of any help. I looked at snake. Snake looked at me. As we looked into each others eyes, there wasn’t enmity—only curiosity.

Communication was rather difficult. I don’t speak snake, and he wasn’t able to read my mind, which was saying something like, “Go away. Please. Go away now. Try going down the cliff. Go someplace. Any place. But not here.”

The snake looked back at me with a rather calm, “well I was here first,” look.

So I gently tossed a small stone near him, thinking perhaps this nonverbal message would convey my desire for movement on his part.

It didn’t.

Finally I looked right at him, and intensely and pleadingly thought, “If you slither off to that side of the path, you could slide through those steep rocks, and I will slowly and gently move myself against the cliff and we could each be on our way.”

It seemed to make sense to the snake, and as he silently slithered southward, I cautiously moved northward. We became an unlikely duo in a delicate dance. As I passed him, I looked back, he glanced up at me as if to say, “thank you for your cooperative partnership.” I smiled and continued on my way.

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I contemplated our non-threatening cooperative encounter and considered those “coexist” bumper stickers—the ones with various religious symbols spelling out the word. We need to coexist on many different levels. I’ve thought of making my own interspecies “coexist” stickers—perhaps with a bear, deer, snake, spider, and bee.

Maybe I have an inner streak of pacifistic Buddhism in me, but I really don’t like wantonly destroying creatures. Especially those with whom I truly can coexist.
Deer and spiders, for instance, aren’t out to get me, they’re just doing their deerlike and spidery thing. I shoo the deer from my garden, I put up protective screening when I can. I put a cup over spiders that I find in my home, slide a paper under it and carry the bug to the door, introducing it to a larger and better world.

As newlyweds, my husband and I had a small garden area in the university’s student housing cooperative garden. I planted a few extra things on our garden’s perimeter, explaining to the insects, “this part is for you, and that area inside is for me.” Our plants were some of the least bug-bitten in the area.

In my individual and small way, I hope to add to the collective consciousness of other creatures that humans aren’t inherently harmful. So far I’ve had pretty good luck when confronting other species. I really do hope we can coexist; can find something to appreciate about each other, and continue, unharmed and perhaps enlightened, on our way.

 

of Bees and Trees and Things That Please

Welcome to my blog! Come on in and make yourself comfortable.

I live on a half-acre of mountainside property; it’s actually more an urban farm because the smallish town we moved to over 20 years ago is rapidly growing. Here is where I homeschooled  five children; and raise chickens, bees, trees, and a garden.

After losing my husband at a fairly young age (and nearly losing myself in grief), I found myself again through writing for a local weekly newspaper. I loved writing stories about people and events in our community. Eventually I authored two weekly columns, one featuring my perspective on my experiences, the other focusing on our visits to local places.

The electronic media eventually took over those weekly bundles of doorstep-delivered news. But it has also opened an opportunity to continue writing and sharing through a blog. So, let’s start Looking Around and see what we find!

Life is filled with wonders and changes. It truly is a journey, not a destination.