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Something About an Auction

Country Moon

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There is just something about going to an auction. The excitement, the hunt of what you will find, and how good of deal you can get on an item. Auctions benefit the buyer and the seller alike. There are, literally, some “professional auction goers” who can be found at nearly every auction in an area. Some do it for resale and some do it to add to their own collections of … whatever.

I, myself, am not an auction person. Perhaps I got tainted on them from  going with Jim to farm and antique auctions. It doesn’t matter what he found that he wanted, it would inevitably be the last item sold. Perhaps it is because I am short on patience sometimes, but my idea of shopping is to buy it at the moment I see it. They do, however, provide an excellent opportunity to sell at a fair price — whatever someone is willing to pay.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to an auctioneer, Darrel Hartman, and get an idea of what it is like “on the other side of the fence.”  He is a seasoned auctioneer and there is no doubt that he enjoys what he does. He used to do auctions on his own but now works for Lestinsky Auctions, admitting that it is easier to let someone else have the headaches while he can still do what he likes.

One of the biggest things he stressed about auctions was the fact that prices reflect what items are really worth based on the value people place on various items. Many times, stores inflate prices and consumers have no choice. At auctions, the people actually set the prices.

It used to be that an auction was an auction. That has changed in that there are more specialty auctions now.  There are the general consignment auctions where anything goes, the farm auction where land is sold, and estate auctions where household wares and other personal items are auctioned after a person passes or simply because they wants to downsize. But then, there are the specialty auctions such as motorsports, gun, jewelry, and sports memorabilia.

“The key to an auction’s success is to have a specialty item, something that will attract the crowd," Darrel says. "This is something that is unique, not a lot of them around. Anything that is different will definitely draw people and the more people that you draw, the better it is because it seems that when one person wants something, everyone wants it.”

There is also the interaction between people. “You have to be a people person to be an auctioneer,” Darrel says, laughing. “Many times when they bring items for you to sell, there is a story that goes with it. It’s interesting to see where an item came from and how it got to where it is today and sometimes relating that story strikes a cord with the buyers and we get a better price.”

It can also cause conflict. I have always found it sad to attend estate auctions because many of the items have been in a particular family for many years and now they are being sold to strangers. It just seems like they should stay with the family. However, after going through this with my parents’ estate, I understand more clearly why this is necessary. We three kids divided up most of the mementos, but when a couple has run a farm and household for over 50 years, there is just too much stuff to keep. I guess it is better for it to find a new home as to set and deteriorate.

Darrel admits that this situation can often cause tension. “I have run into more than one case where siblings couldn’t agree on who should inherit a particular item, so it was put on the auction. Then one of the siblings will come to me and complain that the item just can’t be sold, that it should go to the family. As much as we as auctioneers hate to see this happen, it is out of our hands. Once an item is placed on an auction bill, it must be sold. If we didn’t, it would be false advertising. All I can say to families is to make sure before you do place an item on the docket.”

Of course, this serves another purpose, too. If family absolutely cannot agree about an item, by placing it on auction it gives everyone a fair advantage to purchase it. I do think it is sad to see folks bidding on items that have been in their family for generations, but at least then every member has an equal chance to keep it.

Darrel notices another trend in auctions, too.  Many people are into antiques and the younger generation is getting further and further removed from items that maybe their great grandparents used on the family farm. Before everything was mechanized and computerized, most everything was done by hand. Horse-drawn farm equipment, butter churns, and crocks are just some of the items that are becoming shorter in supply simply because there is no need for them to be manufactured any longer. Thus, finding them is getting to be harder and harder.

“This can be good or bad,” he says. “It can be good for the seller because of the law of supply and demand, the fewer there are, the higher the price. But then, sometimes the demand isn’t there because this generation sometimes has no idea what items are because they have never seen them used like their parents and grandparents have.”

Some people, though, delight in the old. I knew a former auctioneer whose two sons were auctioneers. He would actually buy unique items at auctions and fill his barns with “unique stuff” and then resell these items to folks looking for a particular item. Another couple I know from Pennsylvania built a new house and furnished it completely with primitives. They say that half the fun is having the treasures and the other half is going on the hunt for them.  Another friend of mine can take an item that no one else wants and make it into something that she could sell over and over. It’s all in the potential  that you see in the piece. Some folks have the vision and some don’t.

“It’s all in what sets you apart from the next guy,” Darrel explains. “Once a year we do our anniversary sale on January 1. It’s huge, with six auction rings running at once. It gives folks something to do on New Year’s Day and it really packs them in.”

The excitement of the auction has a place all its own. I do enjoy seeing the folks and being in the auction atmosphere. I guess I am just not big enough on patience to wait for something I really want! As Darrel points out,  I definitely enjoy the adrenaline of the moment when I hear “Going once, going twice!” and I have to decide in a split second how badly I want an item. That very second describes the draw of an auction in a nutshell!

Four Day Stress Away Getaway

Country Moon

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As much as I love summer, sometimes it feels futile to try and keep up with everything. The yard continually needs mowed and trimmed. The garden, it seems, is a daily rotation of herbicide, pesticide, and fungicide. All vegetables are starting to come on, a couple of this and a couple of that, but not enough yet to really get into canning. It is never ending. So, what is a person supposed to do? Go on vacation!

Even though the garden and yard are labors of love, sometimes just getting away for a few days provides a whole new outlook on things. That is exactly what we did. We put the tools away, took one final inspection around the yard, loaded a bag in the truck, and headed north, leaving everything  totally in God’s hands for a few days.

Choosing the direction was easy. We are going east for a family reunion in a couple of weeks, when we go west we want to go further than you can go in just a couple days, and south would have been way too hot. That left only one choice.

Our destination was Split Rock Lighthouse at Two Harbors, Minnesota. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Even though that was our destination, we saw so many spectacular things on the way and our destination was not quite what we had planned.

We drove to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, always a favorite getaway spot because of the peace of the slower pace. Since we had already seen most of the attractions, we headed for the seclusion of the Porcupine Mountains, located 3 miles from Silver City on M-107. Known as the “Porkies,” they offer towering virgin timber, secluded lakes, and miles of wild rivers. It is one of the few remaining large wilderness area in the Midwest. While there, we met a young couple who told us how stunning the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior off the north shore of Wisconsin are.

We headed to the charming little town of Bayfield where we took a tour of the islands. I had heard of them before, but never knew where or what they were. They are actually 22 islands off the Bayfield Peninsula and they have one of the greatest concentrations of black bears in North America. On the islands? Yep. Turns out that Stockton Island has the most bears, even though bears can be found on all the islands as they swim between them. I never would have guessed!

We also got to see the magnificent sea caves located on Devil’s Island. Centuries of wave action and freezing and thawing have interacted with the sandstone to form the sculpted shoreline. Arches, delicate chambers, and honeycombed passageways are visible on the north shore of the island. In winter, visitors can see frozen waterfalls, chambers with windswept beaches, and sandstone cliffs. We were lucky enough to be there at sunset, which casts a different glow on the structures. Ancient native people thought the caves were haunted because of the echoes of the wind howling through the formations.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other site in the National Park system with nine historic towers on six islands. Individual island tours are also available to visit these.

Leaving there, we headed toward Duluth, Minnesota, and our destination of Split Rock Lighthouse. We forgot that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, as the saying goes. We thought we would just grab a motel room along the way. They were few and far between, and the ones we did see had the “no vacancy” shingle hung out. Things always have a way of working out, though. Arriving in Duluth at 1 a.m., we saw the lights of a Hampton Inn. It turns out that it had opened just that afternoon and we were one of the first guests to stay — a brand spanking new room! Now, we will probably never be that lucky again.

The next morning, we visited the Duluth Trading Company before heading to Two Harbors. It was nice to see the “real deal” after getting all the catalogs all these years. Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses of all. All the excitement to finally reach our destination soon turned to disappointment as we found we could not even get down to the lighthouse to photograph it without paying a fee. It seems the historical society bought it and you have to pay to take the inside tour or get a day pass for Split Rock State Park to even look at the outside. Not that we are cheap, but we just don’t believe that you should have to pay to see a national landmark. It shouldn’t always be about the money.

Heading back south, we came to St. Paul where we took a short paddle wheeler ride on the Mississippi. We met some delightful people with whom we have stayed in contact.

The only ways home were to go back the way we came, drive around Chicago, or take the ferry across Lake Michigan. We chose to take the Lake Express from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Muskegon, Michigan. Driving toward Milwaukee, we took Wisconsin backroads and saw some of the most beautiful scenery. Rolling hills dotted with sprawling dairy farms and crops planted on hillsides made for some great photos. The farmers that we are, it is always nice to check out farms in other parts of the country.

We boarded the ferry at 7 p.m. and it took 2 ½ hours to cross the lake. It happened to be a perfect evening and we got to witness a true Lake Michigan sunset, uncluttered by any buildings or structures. Pure awesome!

I call this our “unvacation” in the best sense of the word. There was nothing spectacular along the way and yet we saw so many spectacular sights. I know, this just gives fuel to Ron’s theory that when you don’t always plan, things just work out. In this case, he was so right. Did I just say that!

We had a general destination, Split Rock Lighthouse. Although that turned into a disappointment, if we had not headed for it, we would have missed all the other special moments and places along the way.

It was also the unvacation because we just picked up and went for a few days, no months of planning in advance. And, you know what, when we got back the weeds didn’t disgust me quite so much, the garden still wasn’t ready to give up all its bounty, and home and all its work looked pretty good. It’s true what they say, “It’s so nice to get away, but always good to come home.”

I know that longer trips take some planning and it is nice to see things further away sometimes, but don’t discount the “four day stress away get away." Sometimes it is just what you need to put a whole new perspective on the familiar.

The Lights of Summer

Country MoonThe magic appears right after the first of June and lasts for a couple of short months. They bring enchantment to summer nights and the show is free for all, you just have to be still and enjoy. I am talking about lightning bugs, aka fireflies, or whatever you choose to call these small creatures that make a big impact.

Fireworks are special in their own way but, given a choice between the two, I will choose a night spent watching fireflies any day. There is nothing more spectacular than watching them come alive at dusk and lighting up a bean field for as far as the eye can see. How many country kids grew up not catching lightning bugs at night and putting them in jars? There is just something magical here.

Actually, they are not flies at all, but rather beetles, and good beetles at that, compared to many of their cousins. They do not bite nor ravage plants. It is unknown exactly how they got the name "fireflies," except that the name ‘firebeetles” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

How fireflies “light up” is intriguing in itself. They are alchemists, creating light as if by magic, except it is not magic at all. Their tails contain two chemicals: luciferase, which is an enzyme that triggers light emission, and luciferin, which is heat resistant but glows under the right conditions. ATP is a chemical that is found in all living beings that converts to energy and, when combined with the first two, it initiates the glow. This glow is bright but not hot to the touch, which is why kids can catch these “night lights” without getting burned.

They are light geniuses because the light produced by a firefly is the most efficient light ever made. Almost 100 percent of the energy in the chemical reaction is emitted as light. In comparison, an incandescent light bulb only emits 10 percent of its energy as light with the other 90 percent being lost as heat.

They definitely have strange diets. The underground larva feast on slimy slugs, grubs, worms, and snails. As they mature, most eat pollen and nectar and some adult species even feast on each other. However, some never eat during their short life span. Can you imagine never eating during your life? But, I guess the world is always in balance because even though they are denied the pleasure of dining as adults, their sole purpose in life is to mate and lay eggs. Even though larva live one to two years, the adult life span is only three to four weeks, long enough to mate and lay eggs.

Not only do they light up our world, but they light up the underworld. Firefly babies emit a subterranean glow and, even stranger, some eggs glow underground. Talk about an eerie sight! They are quite adaptable as some species have gills that allows them to live in the water until they find their way to land for their next phase of life.

They are flashy flirts. Each species has a specific pattern of light flashing and they make use of this pattern to let the ladies of the same species know that they would be a mate. When a female notices a suitable male, she replies with her own species-specific flash. Females also make use of this flash info to decide which male with whom to mate. Nothing like synchronized dating!

Seriously, as if woodlands weren’t made wonderful enough by the firefly’s glittering glow, some species actually synchronize their flashes in a light show. Scientists don’t know why they sync up, but one theory is that it is a competition of males trying to be the first to flash. Or it could be that flashing the species pattern in unison ensures that females notice “their guys” as opposed to males of other species. Their light appears to be white, but the light they emit can actually be a rainbow of colors ranging from yellow, light red, green or orange. The Photinus Carolinus is the only species in America that flashes simultaneously. Such a spectacle that this is, they actually have firefly tours in the Great Smoky Mountains.

A firefly’s natural defense against predators is that they taste disgusting. Their blood contains lucibufagins, a defense steroid that tastes gross. A predator associates the bad taste with light so, naturally, they do not eat bugs that glow. Thus, they have few predators.

In spite of this fact, their numbers are declining due to other factors such as light pollution, pesticide use, and habitat destruction. If something happens to their natural habitat such as a field, they do not migrate, but rather simply disappear forever from that location.

There are some simple things that folks can do to attract fireflies and help make sure that they stick around providing their shows:

• Beware of the pesticides since those that kill other harmful insects also kill fireflies. Lawn chemicals kill their larva.
• Leave snails, worms, slugs and grubs alone as that is the main food supply of the larva.
• Plant flowers and provide other good ground cover such as shrubs, high grass, and some low growing plants since these provide cover and shelter for them. They like moist areas such as wet meadows, forest edges, marshes, wild bogs, stream and lake edges, and farm fields. In some cases where you follow set rules, you can certify your backyard as a wildlife habitat. Check with the National Wildlife Federation for details.
• Dim the lights. They rely on “fire” and when artificial lights like street lights, garden lights, and porch lamps are too bright it confuses them. They respond by being shy and staying away.
• Most of all, resist the urge to catch them and put them in a jar, which usually leads to their demise. The “Firefly Project” was a big factor in this when they paid people to collect fireflies. They paid $12 per ounce or $12 for approximately 600 fireflies. Thankfully, the two chemicals that were sought from their bodies are now produced synthetically.

In diseased cells, the ATP may be abnormal. The chemicals derived from fireflies are injected into these cells and through this, changes in the cells can be detected and used to study many diseases including cancer and muscular dystrophy. Electronic detectors built with these chemicals have been fitted into spacecrafts to detect life in outer space. They have also been used to identify food spoilage and bacterial contamination here on earth.

All in all, these little creatures are fascinating and the world would be a much duller place without them. Few pleasures in life are free and simple. The gifts of the fireflies are. I can’t imagine the summer dusk without the beguiling beauty of their bioluminescence.

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Where Did the Summer Go

Country MoonThe “good ol' days of summer” are once again upon us. How can they be and, even more so, how can the summer be half over? We ponder over the seed catalogs during long dreary winter days and it seems that summer days will never get here and now in a couple months we will be looking at the early days of fall. Whoever referred to this season as the “lazy days of summer” certainly was not part of my world, nor in the world of many of my friends. We are all asking, “Where did the summer go?”

Every year for the past 30 years when I reach summer’s midpoint I promise myself the same thing, that I’ll get a few extra things done this year so next year I will have more free time to enjoy some of those warm weather things that have always been on my bucket list. This year is no different, I just caught myself uttering those same words for next year.

I really thought that last year would be the year. I retired, so I had 40 extra hours a week to work everything in. Right. Last year I did my first, and last, garage sale to get rid of extra “stuff” and to get everything in order. This was no ordinary garage sale, for it entailed cleaning out the main house, basement, garage and barn. Then, as if that were not enough for one year, we completely redid three rooms in the house. By the way, the painted border that I decided to do in the bedroom that would take a couple days in the winter is still only a quarter done.

So, what happened to this year? I think the garden grew a little bit larger, because I would have extra time. I decided to take out a few rock piles and turn them back into yard, to save a little time weeding. I brought three car loads of hostas 180 miles to plant around trees, to make mowing easier and save a little time. I decided to clean 30 years’ worth of brush and debris away from the big barn, because I had extra time.

I guess all those projects I added, because I had extra time, used up my extra time. I like to be busy, but this is a little ridiculous. I love bonfires. So far this year we have had none. I have not gone fishing yet, we have not even gotten away for a couple days of vacation. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

I only take comfort in knowing that it is not just me. I cannot count the number of friends we have talked to whom we would like to catch up with who say the same thing, “Where has the summer gone?”

The saddest part of all is that we have been trying to find a couple of days to take the grandsons and do something together. As a kid, I remember working in the garden and truck patch nearly everyday but still having time to swim, fish, and all the other things kids do when out of school. It is a different world today. Ball games aren’t just for a few weeks in the summer, many kids play well into the fall. There are summer programs at the school that run through most of the summer and when they are done, football practice for the fall season starts in August. What summer vacation?

I think next year in January I am going to pin the grandkids down for a couple days for the following summer. After all, grandparents need to get on the list just like baseball and other events.

There are some things we cannot change. I have tried staggering the garden planting so things ripen at different times instead of all at once. It doesn’t work. Every year everything is ready to harvest at the same time. I could remedy that by not having a garden at all, but when you weigh not having one compared to the joy and fruits it offers, there is no contest. For me, the garden has always been a place of peace and calm and never a burden, even though there is work involved.

So, maybe I’ll have to work on actually enjoying more pleasures of what summer’s short season has to offer. I know it sounds absurd to have to work at enjoying something but there is only so much time in a day and if we are not careful, we fill it with all work and no play. Working is never bad, but if you don’t enjoy it along the way, then what is the point of it all.

Sometimes little things can make a huge difference. A few years ago a storm took down limbs, which in turn took down my clothesline. This year I have one for the first time in a long time and I have neglected it because, in the interest of time, it is quicker to throw the clothes in the dryer. But the other day I hung the sheets on the line. I had almost forgotten how good they smell drying in the fresh air, how fresh and clean. The bonus is that I can enjoy the early morning hours while hanging the clothes out instead of being inside doing other mundane tasks that I can always fit in later.

I have been taking more walks. Yes, I want the exercise but, more importantly, I crave the peace and solitude that a walk in the country through the fields and woods brings to the soul. Call me crazy, but fence posts have always fascinated me. Many of the old fence posts, made from logs and limbs, still stand in rural areas in the Midwest.

No two of these are alike and, for someone with an active imagination, they take on shapes and forms that resemble other objects. When I was a kid, I was scared of these, as they reminded me of guys standing guard, ready to frighten little kids. Now, they remind me of something that has stood the test of time and seen it all. The land may change hands and fields may change but fence posts are steadfast. They are a gentle reminder of whose land is whose and yet invite neighbors to come together to chat a while. There is nothing better than an early morning or late evening walk with these in the foreground of a gorgeous sunrise or sunset.

I have taken time this year to watch the fireflies at dusk. Especially after a long, productive day there is nothing better than to sit on the swing with a cool drink and watch the enchanted fields.

I know in the back of my mind that it is all about balance. Summer is a busy time and projects need to get done as do certain chores, but there should always be time to enjoy this magical season because it doesn’t last forever. Perhaps that is part of the beauty, enjoying summer is a gift you give yourself. When we give ourselves permission to enjoy more clotheslines and fence posts, we maybe won’t have to ask ourselves, “Where did the summer go?”

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Finding a Better Way

Country Moon

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One of the biggest problems for homeowners, gardeners, and farmers is weed control. Billions of dollars are spent each year to keep weeds at bay. For the gardener and farmer it is a matter of yield, which translates to dollars. For the homeowner it is a matter of keeping a well-groomed yard.

The solution to this problem is usually Roundup herbicide, or a similar product. Hands down, Roundup is the most effective product on the market, but the question is becoming “Is it the best solution?” As of late, there have been concerns raised as to how safe this product is, not only for our food supply, but also for anyone coming into contact with the ingredients in Roundup.

The Environmental Protection Agency sets legal residue levels for every pesticide. A new study in TOXICOLOGY shows that even at the low levels that are currently legal in our food, Roundup weed killer could cause DNA damage, endocrine disruption, and cell death. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has less of a toxic impact alone than the branded chemical mixture sold to homeowners and farmers.

Solvents and surfactants (also known as surface-acting agents, which help keep the spray on the weed instead of rolling off on the ground) are inert ingredients that are mixed into products like Roundup to create chemical formulations that increase mobility and more direct access to the cells. Simply put, it just makes the weed killer more effective, and more harmful to us.

Vincent Garry, professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Minnesota, puts it very plainly: “Those same chemicals that aid penetration into a plant also aid penetration into the skin. These chemicals are designed to kill cells. They amplify the effect of the glyphosate and the glyphosate also amplifies the effects of the other ingredients. In this case, it’s a double whammy, one plus one equals something a lot larger than two.”

Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, California, puts it another way: “Herbicide manufacturers are subject to fewer rules in the testing of the inert ingredients than they are for the active ingredients. Testing for birth defects, cancer, and genetic damage is required only on the active ingredient but we are exposed to both."

Now, I know there are all those folks out there who swear by Roundup; they have been using it for years. At this time there are no other choices, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be. Farmers definitely do not have a choice. It is a matter of get rid of the weeds or have no crop, and no crop means no income. Their hands are tied. Furthermore, seed manufacturers have genetically altered plants to be resistant to Roundup, which means that, even though Roundup is sprayed on crops and weeds alike in a whole field, Roundup will not kill the crops. Even so, it penetrates the crops and eventually makes it into our food chain. Consumers are exposed once when they eat the produce and farmers are exposed twice, once when they spray Roundup and again when they eat the food.

There are other methods of weed control that gardeners and homeowners can use that are not toxic. These include:

 1. Using ground cover and thick planting to crowd out weeds. Robert Hartzler, extension weed specialist and professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, defines weeds as “plants that take advantage of open areas with available resources." And says, "The simplest way to control weeds is to eliminate the open areas of which they take advantage.”

2. Maintain healthy soil. Keep plants healthy by keeping them fertilized and keeping soil aerated and well-drained. Talk to a specialist for an optimum plan to fertilize the plants and not the weeds.

3. Till the garden. Simply bury weeds at depths where they are unable to re-establish. I know as a kid I spent many an hour on a Farmall C tractor cultivating field corn and soybeans to keep weeds at bay. Unfortunately, many farmers do not practice this tillage method any longer. For those who still do, there are definitely benefits to be reaped in weed control.

4. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulch is an important factor in preventing weeds. It provides a barrier that blocks light, a necessity for growth. Bark, dried leaves, and cardboard work very well. Organic mulch adds even more benefits such as improving soil structure by adding nutrients, keeping soil cool, and reducing water loss by evaporation.

5. Keep weeds from going to seed. Sometimes something as simple as mowing them off before they have a chance to propagate makes a huge difference. When dandelions go to seed, one puff ball can produce 15,000 seeds.

6. Burn the weeds. If you have a field that has gone to seed and it is safe to do so, burning will eliminate many of the weeds. Landscape flamers allow homeowners to torch weeds along walks and pathways.

7. Biological controls like insects and animals. Some of these feed on weeds, but be careful that you do not trade one problem for another.

8. Organic herbicides. Vinegar and salt can be very effective in weed control. Vinegar will kill the weed itself but not the root. Adding salt will kill the roots as well and make the ground sterile so that nothing will grow there. However, it may take several applications to achieve total weed control.

This last one brings me to my point that there has to be a better way. This year I am foregoing using any Roundup at all in favor of the gentler approach. I am using a mixture of 1 gallon vinegar, 1¼ cups table salt, and ¼ cup Dawn dish soap. I dissolve the salt in about a quart of hot water first, then mix with the other two ingredients. This assures that the salt is thoroughly dissolved, otherwise it tends to clog the sprayer nozzle.

I realize that this will require more applications than Roundup, but I am committed to trying this for one season. I am keeping a log of the cost and time and results. At the end of the season, I will do a follow-up article on the results.

I know what I am doing is small, but change has to start somewhere. I want my grandkids and future generations to enjoy the fruits of the land and good health. I am also scared for our generation. How many farmers, not alone consumers, are developing cancer earlier and earlier? I am certainly not blaming the whole epidemic on Roundup, but I do believe that it is a major factor, along with many other chemicals. We need to make changes for the better and it starts with each of us.

To be continued…

Seasoned with Love

Country MoonRemember the family cookbook that I started back in January? Well, six months later I have learned a few things about “recipes.” It is amazing the variety that I have. I asked for heritage recipes and what I received have exceeded my wildest expectations. They run the gamut from sugar cream pie that you stir with your fingers to homemade marshmallows to skillet cake baked in cast iron and beyond.

At last tally, my recipe count was a little over 300. These included the normal comfort foods such as homemade mac and cheese, different versions of meat loaf, and new twists on brownies, to name a few. Banana bread was the hands-down favorite, as this was the most popular one I received and, amazingly, they were all a little different.

Some of these family favorites will also pose a challenge for anyone trying them. Many of these heritage recipes come with directions straight from Grandma’s kitchen — with her unique measuring system, too. A dash of this, a pinch of that, a “reasonable” amount of that — the measurements (or lack of) are the purest example of how folks used to cook. Recipes were passed down from generation to generation, with a few tweaks along the way. No need for exact measurements, because kids learned by watching and doing and passing it on.

I didn’t test each recipe and try to figure out measurements. To do so would be to take the character away from each submission. Besides, who am I to impose my interpretation on each family’s tried and true? Many of you will make your own educated guesses and then adjust it to your particular tastes. You will remember what Grandma’s signature dish tasted like and eventually you will tweak the recipe to come pretty close to hers. Obviously, each particular recipe brings back a particular memory or you wouldn’t have submitted it.

After collecting the recipes, I had two options for submitting them. I could let the company enter them on their submission forms or I could type them in using their online program. In the interest of saving more money on the cost per book, I chose to type them in. After all, how hard could it be? That was my thought before the reality of it actually set in. The plan was to do this during the lingering winter evenings and have the last few to finish up this summer. Well, you know what they say about best laid plans!

Here it is midsummer and the garden is growing and the gentle breezes are blowing and I have 300-plus recipes on slips of paper, in e-mails, and in text messages waiting to be entered. Well, last week I thoroughly cleaned house, you know the kind where you pull all the furniture out and vacuum behind it as opposed to running a couple passes in front of it. I despise dusting, after all it is futile since it always returns. Every knick knack is thoroughly spit shined. When I was home, I used to trade out chores with my sister so I wouldn’t have to wash windows. Ugh. Windows are washed.

Literally, I did everything that I could think of to get out of the typing. However, it soon came a time that I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. Then something magical happened. As I started typing each recipe, I thought about the person who submitted it, how I knew them, and why they chose each submission. But the real clincher was the notes. I had asked folks to include the stories behind the recipes. Some of these stories relate tender memories that will trigger those same reactions with other family members and friends.

Many of the notes included stories about how a particular recipe was a special part of Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions for the family. Others related childhood memories that centered around a particular food. Food is very much a part of a family’s heritage. A friend from Pennsylvania related how making homemade ice cream was always a family affair at her house. My nieces submitted cookie recipes that Grandma (my mom) would make for them and now they make with their kids.

What started out to be a monumental chore soon turned to a labor of love. I found myself anxiously anticipating the next submission. I checked the recipe count and I had entered 166. Wow!

Then there were the special “recipes” that gave ingredients such as love, respect, and honesty for a happy marriage; recipes for happiness, etc. It was fun to sprinkle these among the others.

From the onset, I had struggled on what to name the book. After all, it was bringing the heritages of four families together. The common denominator was Jim and myself. Everyone who submitted was connected to us in some way. Now, through the book, they are all connected by this one thread, all seasoned a little by each other.

There it was, staring me in the face, so obvious that I almost missed the whole concept. The title is “Seasoned With Love.” Not only are the recipes seasoned with the tastes and memories of our pasts, but each contributor is seasoned with the connection to all the others that this book has brought together. I can hardly wait to see the finished product that the love of all these folks has created. I love it when a plan comes together.

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Berries' Bounty

Country MoonSummers here in the Midwest offer a sweet bounty all their own, free for the taking. There are so many things to love about summer as a season, but from mid-June to the end of the month there is a special magic in those golden days of summer for me.

It’s when everything turns green, and not just green, but rather countless different hues of the color. Driving through farmland, all the fields are oceans of green, which radiate against the wooded backgrounds of deeper, darker greens. It’s when fireflies make their debut for the season and light up the early night sky. Who needs fireworks with the show they put on!

Though for me, the most special part of these couple of weeks is when the berries begin to ripen. Strawberries are nearing their demise for the season and blueberries are not quite ready, but wild raspberries, blackberries, and other varieties are just beginning to ripen. My favorite, hands down, of all these are the wild black raspberries. Here in southern Michigan and central Indiana where I spend my time, the wild ones grow prolifically and are free for the taking.

I love heading to the woods early in the morning, before the hot sun bakes them for the day and while the morning dew is still on, and seeing what bounty I can harvest for the day. There is a certain solitude about being in the fresh air, one with God and picking the ripe, juicy and sweet berries that he has provided. Never mind that my shoes and pants usually get soaked and my hands are stained for days. What a small price to pay for the sweet bounty.

Of course, the ultimate reward of berry picking is the savory sweet treats that make out-of-this-world cobblers, pies, and ice cream. Sometimes the best way to enjoy them is just straight from the patch. This is an activity that just about everyone can partake in, with only a few rules to keep you safe and successful.

It used to be that wild black raspberries could be found along roadsides, and sometimes that is still the case in some areas. However, they are usually found along fence rows, in overgrown meadows, and along the edges of woods. Unlike other fruits, they do not ripen once picked, so only choose the deep purple ones and don’t tug on the berries because the ripe ones will fall off easily. The clusters that receive the most sunlight ripen first, so the ones on the ends and outsides of the brambles will catch your eye. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have found them all because down in the centers of the foliage is where the largest and juiciest ones are sometimes hiding.

The biggest challenge here is the brambles themselves with their thorns. They like to intertwine, which makes getting into the thick of them a challenge. Always wear long pants and long sleeves to keep from getting scratched on bare skin. Some wear gloves, but they have always been too cumbersome for me; I’ll risk a few thorn cuts to get the treats. I also take an old coffee can with a wire makeshift handle attached. This not only serves to collect the berries, but I also use it to push the briars away in my path.

Unfortunately, we humans are not the only ones in the berry patch. Wasps, mosquitoes, chiggers, snakes, and poison ivy also like to hang out there. Always watch where you are stepping so as not to disturb snakes that are sunning themselves in the cool grass. I usually start out with mosquito spray as I know they are always there. So far, the worst I have come back from the patch with are mosquito bites and poison ivy. Of course, this year you can add ticks to the mix. Always remove clothing when done picking and check for these nuisances.

Some folks have trouble distinguishing black raspberries from blackberries. Both are delicious, but if you are looking for one type in particular, it is good to know the differences. The stems of black raspberries are bluish-white and smooth, whereas blackberry stems have ridges and are angled. Blackberries are totally black in color and come cleanly off the vine, whereas black raspberries are a very dark purple in color and when pulled from the vine leave a cone-shaped receptacle on the plant. Also, the underside of the black raspberry leaves are almost white, whereas the blackberry’s leaves are just lighter in color.

For me, the best ones have always been straight from the patch into my mouth, even though pies and cobblers taste great, too. Washing the berries is pretty simple since all you need to do is rinse them off under some cool running water to remove leaves and other debris.

Perhaps the most important part of wild berry picking is to remember to ask permission before going on someone's property. No matter how tempting these berries are, it is never an excuse for brash and rude behavior. This year when we went for our first picking we found that trespassers had already taken their share from the private property. The berries had been plucked and the vines were trampled down.

This is so wrong on so many levels. Just because something hasn’t been planted as a crop does not mean it is free for the taking if it is not on your property or if you do not have permission to go on the property where it is. Some of the best things in life are free, but you still have to use common sense and have respect for others. This way it keeps an enjoyable legacy for all.

Our first day of “berrying” is safely tucked away in the freezer (except for those that we bagged in the patch!). Tomorrow and the next few days will be repeated like today and I will enjoy every minute of it. I am always sad to see the short berry season end, but then some other summer delicacy will certainly follow.raspberry1