Country Moon

Savor the Flavor of Herbs All Year Long

Country MoonThere are vegetables, there are flowers, and then there are herbs. I call these little gems “little giants” because even though they are small in stature, they pack a big wallop of flavor and nutrients. So, why enjoy them just during the summer months when they are fresh?

Preserving herbs lets you enjoy their flavor enhancements to dishes all year long. Besides that, if you have ever planted herbs, you know that each plant gives and gives and keeps on giving, so much so that you could never use it all in one season, even taking into account if you share with all your friends and neighbors.

There are different ways to preserve them, depending on how you like to use them. Whichever method you choose, harvesting and preparing them all starts the same way. Be sure to cut them before the flower forms. If the plant has started to flower, cut the flower off or the plant will focus on the flower and not the leaves, which is the part you want.

basil and rosemary in pots
Photo by 
Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Always cut herbs in the morning before the sun strips them of their natural essential oils. Snip the lower leaves first because they were grown first. Follow the motto of restaurants, “first in, first out.” Be sure and cut just above where the leaf meets the stem. This protects them from getting diseases caused by cutting too close to the stem.

Wash the herbs in water thoroughly, checking for bugs and making sure all dirt is off, especially if you harvest just after a rain. Dry them thoroughly, using one of three methods.

Herbs can be dried by cutting whole stems and hanging upside down in a cool, dark place. They are dry when the leaves begin to crumble. Shake to remove dust and withered leaves. Secure stems together and hang in a place that is well ventilated away from light. If you don’t have a good place, place them in a brown paper bag with holes to let air flow through. Ventilation is the key. This is probably the simplest method and it makes the space you hang them in smell delightful.

They can also be dried in the oven. This method is faster than air drying and is a good option if you are in a humid environment. Simply lay the herbs on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper since metal can affect the flavor. Place them in a 150 degree F. oven, or the lowest temperature that your oven has, and leave the door slightly ajar. Remove when the leaves are dry and crumbly and place in air tight container. This should take roughly 4 hours. If you have a dehydrator, that works equally well.

Herbs can also be frozen, especially leafy ones such as cilantro, basil, parsley and tarragon. They can be chopped and frozen on a cookie sheet and then stored in a Ziploc bag or they can be placed in ice cube trays and frozen in water or broth. If using the latter method, be sure and take into account the extra water when used in recipes. This approach works well for soups and stews.

Of course, you want to use as many fresh as you can and there are only slight differences between fresh and dried. Herbs placed in a glass of water will last two to three weeks in the refrigerator. When substituting dry for fresh, remember that dried have more concentrated flavor. When using dried, use a third of the amount of fresh that is called for in a recipe. Also, remember that fresh is added at the end of the cooking so heat doesn’t destroy the color and flavor whereas dried herbs need more time for the flavor to seep into the food, so add them at the beginning.

Herbs can also be preserved in oil, vinegar and as butter. When making herb butter, combine your favorite herbs with butter, shape and freeze. These are great on fresh hot rolls in the middle of winter. Herb butter is also known as compound butter, so look under these two names when googling for various recipes.

Herb-infused vinegar is great for making your own marinades and salad dressings. You can get creative and use fancy old bottles, just be sure and use corks instead of metal caps since vinegar will rust metal. Mix 1/2 cup of herbs with 2 cups of vinegar, seal with a cork and set in a dark place for at least six weeks, the longer it sets, the more robust the flavor. Most of these are made with either white or apple cider vinegar but you can get creative and try balsamic vinegar if you like the taste of it or white wine makes a good choice too. If you are not going to use it for a while, seal around the cork with beeswax.

You can also do this with oil instead of vinegar. If using oil, make sure your herbs are completely dry as any water left in the leaves will make the oil rancid. The proportions are the same, use 1/2 cup herbs per 2 cups of oil. As with vinegar, choose your favorite oils.

Now, here is the real nifty one. You can make your own cooking extracts using herbs. Pour vodka in an old jar, add vanilla beans and wait six weeks and you have your own vanilla. One of my favorites is mint extract. Put vodka in a jar and add mint. You can’t buy extracts that are fresher or more potent than making your own from your own herbs. Try your favorite flavor and add sugar to taste to make homemade coffee syrup. Put these in a pretty bottle and tie with a bow and you have unique Christmas gifts.

Herbs open up a whole new realm of flavor and can take a recipe from ordinary to extraordinary. There is no reason to watch them go to waste at the end of the season when there are so many choices for preserving them. Experiment until you find your favorites and then explore. The possibilities are endless.


Country Moon

Whether you are a fan or not, everyone has heard of camping. Well, there’s a couple new kids on the block and they are called gamping and glamping.

They are both ways to experience the outdoors and nature without losing all the amenities of home. Gamping refers to either renting land on someone’s private property or, if you have property, you can rent out a certain portion of your land. Folks come and use it as their own to set up tents or just sleep under the stars for a specified amount of time.

There is a website called that was started in 2013. It has gampsites posted in 25 different countries from Australia to Urugray. The host specifies what is included such as toilet facilities, pools or barbecues. Sites usually list for $8 to $15 which makes them very attractive.

This is just a new name for something that has been around for a long time. A woman from my hometown went on a missions trip to central Pennsylvania and ended up camping on my not-yet father-in-law’s front lawn. It was a win/win for both of them.

It is more appealing to some than regular camping spots because gamping tends to be more private. If you are looking to sit around campfires with others each night then this is not for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to get away from the rat race and get some one-on-one time with nature, this just may be your cup of tea. It is also a way for farmers and other landowners to make a little extra cash, if they don’t mind sharing their personal pieces of heaven with the public.

Glamping is where nature meets luxury, a place where you can live in nature without giving up all the amenities. The word “glamping” actually is coined from the two words “glamourous” and “camping.” Your quarters may be a yurt on a mountaintop, a treehouse in the middle of a forest or a site on a private beach.

Photo via Getty Images

This trend especially appeals to city folks who haven’t lived among nature and don’t want to go the rustic route and yet want to experience wildlife, great views and secluded landscapes while still having comfortable beds, bubble baths, on-site spas and other modern conveniences.

Glamping sites are usually eco-friendly since they rely on solar power many times in the absence of electric from the grid where they are. Adventurers can tailor their experiences to their liking whether it be hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, animal and bird watching or many other activities.

The Midwest’s first glamping experience opened this past June. It is called The Fields and is situated on a working blueberry farm in South Haven about three and a half miles from Lake Michigan. This reality began as a vision of Irene Wood who grew up in South Haven and grew up living between town and her family’s farm. She had the best of both worlds and that is what she hopes that The Fields will provide to her guests.

OK, guests do sleep in tents but you wouldn’t know you were in one from the inside looking out. At present she has 10 luxury rooms that include bathrooms en suite complete with toilets and showers. There are desks and seating areas too. Each one has a wood burning stove, small cooling units and all of these surround a king size bed. Oh, and the lighting is more than merely lamps for each unit has its own chandeliers.

Meals are done a little differently here too. A complementary breakfast is served fireside at The Willows. Lunch and supper can be ordered on the guest’s schedule. Lunches to go are available and guests can also order dinner kits to grill if they are so inclined.

Sean Hale is the resident chef. Having studied at such prestigious schools like the French Culinary School, he brings upscale cuisine down home. He likes to take full advantage of the farm fresh produce of the region in his meal planning. Guests can even take cooking classes with Hale.

If families want to host events or for large groups, The Barn Event venue fits the bill.

Of course, there are always plenty of blueberry dishes served since the farm produces 40,000 pounds of blueberries annually from the 10-acres of blueberry bushes. The farm offers U-Pick to guests and the public.

Farming has changed in recent years. It encompasses so much more than just the major crops of corn, soybeans and wheat that most folks think of when a farm comes to mind. Large corporations have squeezed the small farmer out, making it harder and harder for the little guy to make a go of it.

By using acres on a farm for glamping, it provides the farmer with a little extra income off land that wasn’t directly producing and also offers folks a place to get away from the hectic world and see what nature and farming is all about.

Is this a good idea for everyone? Definitely not. There are always added liability issues when dealing with the public and many farmers are on the farm for the very reason that folks are wanting to come…to get away for a while. When farmers open up their acres for glamping, it takes the personal and private factor away.

Glamping is a whole new ballgame that is right for some and not for others. As with anything, it is all about choice. Who knows, maybe some “glampers” will get a taste of nature and decide to go a little more rustic the next time.

Making Plant Babies: Propagation Tips

Country MoonRon has a viburnum bush in his backyard. Each spring it has the most beautiful and fragrant snowball-like blooms that have such heavenly scents. I want a start of one from his bush. Here lies the problem.

Unlike lilac bushes that throw up new shoots each year where you can merely dig one up and replant it wherever you would like, the viburnum doesn’t produce shoots. So, before delving into this process of propagating plants, I was all set to graft a new one. However, there are distinct differences between grafting and taking a cutting. Each process works better for different varieties.



Taking a cutting requires no time or money but a lot of patience to root a branch to grow a new tree. It is the simplest method of propagation and can be used for both deciduous and evergreens. Branch cuttings become a complete, new plant that is identical to the parent plant. Branches less than one year old work best and cuttings usually grow better than trying to start the tree or bush from seed. They also mature faster than from seed, developing roots within a few months.

The first step is to prepare the planter. Multiple cuttings can be grown in one planter, just make sure that you select a space that is large enough. Fill the planter with sterile, soil-less potting medium and then water it until it feels moist all the way through and settles. Then make one-inch diameter holes for each of the cuttings. Taking multiple cuttings ensures a greater rate of success.

When selecting a branch, choose a healthy one about 10 inches long that includes leaves. Cut it from the tree or shrub on a 45-degree angle using clean pruning shears. The rule of thumb is to take softwood cuttings in spring from new stems; cut semi-hardwood in summer or fall from current-season stems; and hardwood cuttings are taken from the previous season’s growth in winter.

To prepare the cutting, remove leaves and needles from the bottom two thirds of the stem and then wound the bottom couple of inches of it by making vertical cuts on each side with a sharp knife, taking care to stay in the surface wood. This allows more rooting hormone and water to be absorbed while increasing cell division.

Pour one teaspoon of rooting hormone into a clean saucer. Dip the wounded end of the cutting into the hormone, rolling the bottom wounded part of the stem in it until it is coated. Shake off the excess and place the hormone-covered part into one of the holes in the potting medium. Build the mix around the cutting to hold it into place and mist the soil and leaves.

Place a few sticks into the planter around the potting mix and cover with plastic film or lightweight greenhouse plastic to trap humidity. Set in indirect light and keep the temperature around 65 degrees.

Keep the soil moist all the way through and mist the leaves daily. Check the cutting daily for root development by gently tugging on a branch to see if roots have started. When roots have formed, plant the new plant in a 4-inch planter filled with sterile potting soil. Place it in indirect sunlight and keep the soil moist. Slowly harden it off to outdoor conditions after one year of growth before directly planting it in the ground.

Although taking a cutting is a pretty simple process, there are a few tips that will help to ensure success. Water the tree deeply the day before the cutting. This will make sure there is plenty of water in the branches. Process the cutting right after taking it to prevent it from drying out. Dip pruning shears in a solution of 10% bleach and 90% water to prevent the spread of disease. Be patient, sometimes it takes up to three months for roots to develop.



Grafting is one of the most difficult types of propagation. Essentially, it is joining parts from two or more plants so they appear to grow as one plant. The offspring are genetically identical to the parent plant. The nitty gritty is that a piece of a mature tree, called a scion, is joined to a seedling, which is the rootstock. The scion will become the new trunk and branches while the rootstock will become the new root system. There are two distinct types of grafting, veneer and cleft.

In veneer grafting, bark is removed from one side of the scion and then bark that is roughly the same size is removed from the rootstock. The flap of bark should be left on the bottom of the rootstock to hold the scion in place. Both of these cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle so they will fit together nicely. The exposed cambium, the active layer of cells located between the bark and woody portion of the stem or branch, of the scion and rootstock should be placed together and held in place with grafting tape.

It is critical that the cuts be smooth and flat so they can become a good fit together. Using a grafting knife, which is beveled only on one side, is best for this process.

Cleft grafting is basically the same process, but a different type of cut is made. The top of the rootstock is cut and then a cut approximately a half inch deep is made down the middle of the rootstock. The scion is prepared by cutting a thin wedge at its base which fits into the cut in the rootstock. Again, grafting tape holds the two parts securely in place.

Both types of grafting should be complete within four to seven weeks. When the graft is successful, the new plant will begin to grow leaves.

Both processes, taking cuttings and grafting, are done to grow new plants. Much of the time in grafting, the purpose is to take the best properties of two or more plants and combine them into a new plant, hopefully one that is superior to the single plants. This is big business in the fruit industry.

Either way, it is fun to try this on your own. Animal breeders do it all the time, to make a breed stronger, bigger, better. It is the same with plants. As for the viburnum bush, it is next on my bucket list…to see if I can make a new plant baby!

Images courtesy of Getty Images

Sweet Summer Bounty: Picking Fresh Fruit

Country MoonIt’s that time of year again…finally. Summer’s sweet offerings of fresh fruits are coming into season.

This time of year always seems to separate the city folks from the country folks. No matter where you hail from, when fresh produce is ripe, we are all anxious to taste it, especially after the long winters here in the north. But, growing up here in southwest Michigan where my family not only farmed, had a huge family garden and also a truck patch where we sold fresh produce along the road side, we learned that there is fresh and then there is FRESH.

Sure, it always tingles my taste buds when the first stalks of asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries appear on supermarket shelves. Even though they look appetizing, I resist the urge to put them in my cart because I know that, being shipped in from other parts of the country, they just won’t have the same flavor as fresh from your own garden.

I was taught this lesson at an early age. There was never much thought into meal planning when summer months arrived. We ate what was ripe at the time. When it was strawberry season, we ate strawberries over pancakes and waffles for breakfast, as a dish of side sauce for lunch and strawberry shortcake for supper.

So it was with raspberries, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet corn and all other seasonal produce. Eating off the land was just a way of life; we knew no other way. In so doing, my sister, brother and I learned the means to always get the freshest and best, after all, that is the name of the game.


Strawberries, above all other fruits, hold special memories for me. One of the first patches that we had on our farm, our parents told us that we three kids could keep all the proceeds if we did all the work. At that time, 10-speed bikes were the newest and best on the market and I had my eye on one at the local hardware. Mind you, back in the 1960’s paying $60 for a bike was an expensive expenditure, for a 12-year old kid. All three of us kids had our eye on something.

Selling the berries at thirty cents a quart, meant I had to sell roughly 200 quarts to get enough money for the bike. It also meant that we needed to sell at least 600 quarts since we were splitting the money three ways. The only way to do that was to make sure we had the biggest, best, most productive strawberry patch ever. We learned how to fertilize, how to pick and how to make sure the berries stayed off the ground and did not mold.

Well, we made our 600 quarts, I got my bike (still have it!) and my parents found a unique way to teach us how to raise a crop. By letting us kids keep the produce money, they knew we would work extra hard while still learning valuable lessons and they built a good clientele that would return year after year for fresh strawberries.

Even more so, we learned life lessons, not only with strawberries, but all other crops. I now go to a local grower, Harvey Farms of Tekonsha, MI, to pick every year. Strawberries take up too much space to have them in my garden. Not bragging, but I can usually pick two quarts to anyone else’s one. Most folks only reach for those in plain sight, at the edge of the row. Get in the middle of the row and there are plenty of juicy, plump berries that have been protected from the sun and that have been overlooked.


Because of the weather this year, black raspberries are ripe, right on the tails of strawberry picking. Usually we have a one or two-week break between the two. Four years ago, I started some black raspberry bushes in my garden. This is the first year that they are really producing. However, I really love picking the wild ones. You have to know where to look and, if not on your own land, have permission to pick.

They are fairly prolific at various spots down here in Indiana and they are usually fairly large sized, sweet and juicy. This year is no exception. Many folks will go for the blackberries as opposed to black raspberries because they are larger and you don’t have to deal with the thorns. They choose these because of the looks and ease of picking and forego the taste because of it. Blackberries just can’t rival black raspberries for flavor.

These little gems are persnickety little fruits though. They need plenty of rain to make them grow and then the sun to ripen. However, too hot and too much sun will make them shrivel up so there has to be the right balance. When I hit the patches, the bigger and better berries are usually in the shadier spots where they don’t get sun all day straight.

Wearing long sleeves helps protect against the thorns and bugs. Granddaddy long legged spiders like the berries too and mosquitoes and ticks dictate the need for bug repellent. This is especially true because, again, the best berries are down low and in the center of the patches.

Growing up on the farm, I just assumed that everyone knew these little tricks. There are learned little tricks when selecting all fruits and vegetables. I forget that folks from different walks of life don’t always have the same knowledge. A friend who had always lived in town once came out and was going to take some carrots home. We went to the garden and she saw the tops of the carrots and asked where the orange carrots were. She had no clue that they grew underground. By the same token, I would have no idea how to ride a city bus and actually get where I wanted to go.

Another thing us country folks learn is you get the bounty while it is here. Last year was a bumper year for black raspberries so we froze all we could. Last year apples and peaches were plentiful. This year in Michigan, all tree fruit blossoms froze in the spring. You freeze and can when the produce is plentiful because the next year it may not be.

We are all different but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn new and better ways. Now, more than ever, it is so important to know where your food comes from, how it is sourced and where to get the freshest. If nothing else, just the fresher taste will make it all the more worth it. Anyone can learn the “tricks of the trade.” After all, a 12-year old kid learned how to raise strawberries and has learned some of the best secrets of gardening…all because she wanted a bike.

Don't Touch Me: Plants to Avoid

Country MoonWeeds. Usually, they are just an annoying part of our summer life. Sometimes, like in the case of dandelions, they can rise above annoying and actually contribute to our well-being. Then, sometimes they can be the complete opposite and be downright dangerous to us and our pets, thus enter the world of noxious weeds.

Noxious weeds, by definition, are weeds that are considered harmful to the environment or animals, especially one that is the subject of regulations governing attempts to control it.

Most of them are spread by nature. Seeds are carried by the wind, water and wildlife. Humans and pets pick up seeds that stick in the tread of boots and shoes, on clothing and animal fur. Animals’ paws carry seeds near and far. Most noxious weeds have more than one method of propagation. Besides seeds, some send out rhizomes. Species such as knotweed can spread by seeds and fragmentation, just a piece of its root will grow a new plant.

Most noxious weeds were introduced to a region by humans for a certain purpose. Thus, what may be considered a noxious weed in one state or area may not be in another. The Department of Environmental Conservation or the local extension service can provide information on what plants are hazardous in your area.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about one certain plant that is particularly hazardous if people come into contact with it. The culprit is 14 feet tall, green, hairy, covered in toxic sap and is known as giant hogweed. This massive plant causes painful burns, scarring and possible blindness.

Hogweed is native to Asia but naturalists introduced the plant to this country in the 1900’s. Its size and enormous flowers made it desirable for ornamental planting. It remains small for 3 to 5 years and then gains enough energy from its roots to rocket in growth and produce early summer flowers that are one to two feet in diameter and 5-foot wide jagged leaves.

With no known disease or insect pests to control it, hogweed soon escaped to the wild and is becoming widespread. An average hogweed plant produces 20,000 seeds that can fall 30 feet from the plant and travel even further. As of date, it is found in Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois, Washington and Oregon.

So, what makes this plant so bad? The danger is in the sap, which is literally all over the plant. Once a person comes into contact with it, it causes severe burns when exposed to the ultraviolet light from the sun. For some, this can happen within 15 minutes of contact and for others it may take up to two days.

When the painful blisters subside, permanent scarring can remain. The more sap you come into contact with, the greater the damage. Once in your system, it makes your skin unable to protect itself from the sun. This reaction is known as phytophotodermatitis, the same condition that occurs when certain antibiotics makes you more sensitive to the sun. This sensitivity can last for up to six years and in the more severe cases it can cause blindness.

A recent incident involving a giant hogweed sent a 17-year old boy to the emergency room with second and third degree burns after he chopped down one of these plants as part of his summer landscaping job. Alex Childress of Spotsylvania, Virginia, didn’t notice anything was wrong until he went to take a shower the night after he chopped it down. He told PEOPLE magazine that he started rubbing his skin and huge chunks started falling off. He must now avoid the sun for six months.

Hogweed likes lots of light and moist soil but it is also found in partially shaded areas, along streams, river banks, roads, forests, fields, yards and basically anywhere! Two similar looking plants are often mistaken for it, cow parsnip and angelica. However, the plants can be differentiated; cow parsnip only grows to about 6 feet in height and angelica has compound leaves and smooth stems. Hogweed has white hairs and purple blotches on its stems.

If you do happen to come into contact with it, wash with soap and water as soon as possible and get to a doctor ASAP.

Although giant hogweed is the big bad boy of noxious plants, there are others that can also make you sick or just downright uncomfortable. Depending on a person’s system, some may have severe reactions to certain plants while others have mild reactions. They are also divided into various categories on how they affect a person.


Irritant Sap

Noxious plants that contain irritant sap include buttercup, clematis, daffodils, marsh marigolds, euphorbias, among others. Avoid the sap coming into contact with your skin.

Phototoxic Plants

These include hogweed, angelica, Bishop’s weed, celery, chervil, fennel, fig, gas plant, lime, masterwort, parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, rue and others.

Prickly Plants

These plants have tiny irritating bristles and/or sharp serrated leaves. Some are prickly bear, cactus, hops, Ravenna grass, redtwig dogwood, stinging nettle and thistles.

Allergi Dermititis

These cause rashes and blistering and usually occurs once a person becomes sensitized to the plant. This list includes poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, ragweed, aster, balsam fir, black-eyed Susans, bleeding heart, castor bean, daisies, English ivy, feverfew, garlic, ginkgo, marigold, primrose, tomato, trumpet vine and tulip.

Plants Not to Inhale

Airborne pollen can cause allergic reactions as with ragweed, various grasses and conifers.

Plants Not to Eat

The rule of thumb here is not to eat anything unless you know beyond a shadow of a doubt what it is. There is a long list here, but some more prominent ones are lily of the valley (even the water in the vase it is in is toxic), hydrangeas, mountain laurel, rhododendrons, azaleas, yew and many others.

Some of these plants listed lend color to our gardens, provide food and also medicine for us. Some parts of different plants are noxious such as stems, leaves, roots, etc. while other parts of the same plant are not. The key to staying safe is to know your plants and when in doubt…don’t touch it!

Image courtesy of Getty Images


Country MoonI love the idea of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the other “special” holidays that are set aside to honor those who mean so much to us. Yes, sometimes it gets a little crazy, we just get past one holiday and another one is upon us.

Commercialism is largely responsible for this. Merchants seize the opportunity to capitalize on our almighty dollar. They promote holidays almost to the point of making us feel guilty if we don’t buy a gift and, on top of that, the perfect gift to show those we love how much we care. They convince us that a material thing can do that.

Especially for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, there is the added stress of what to buy. By the time they have raised their kids, parents pretty much have everything they need or want. Of course, there are always new gadgets on the market that they probably shouldn’t live without. But then, in retrospect, why do you think parents of young adults have so many yard sales? It’s to recycle all the new gadgets that they just can’t live without so they can make room for new gadgets!


There is a better way and it doesn’t cost a dime. It is the gift of time, a gift that, ironically, is harder to give than a material thing. How many times have you thought of stopping to spend some time with Mom, Dad, Grandma or some other special person in your life but you didn’t do it because you had to go to the store (to buy the gift), pick up the kids, take junior to baseball practice or some other errand. Oh, the intentions were good, you didn’t have time today but you would tomorrow is how you rationalize it. But tomorrow never seems to come. I am so guilty of this too. The blame goes to the modern world we live in and the demands it puts upon us.

It does take some effort to give this most precious gift of time. A case in point happened this week. Ron received the best Father’s Day gift a few days early this year from his son Rodney Scruggs. As everyone knows, this year the weather has been every farmer’s enemy instead of friend. Too much rain and at the wrong time has delayed getting crops in the ground. Here in central Indiana, farmers are still struggling.

On top of not getting the planting done, they can’t even get into the fields to work the ground to prepare for the crops. The old adage of “the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get” certainly rings true here. Even the few dry days that were sprinkled amidst the wet ones were not enough for farmers to get on their ground.

Consequently, when the weather did get near-right for a couple days, Ron was working a little ground, then planting it and then working more. I cannot (will not) either work ground nor plant because, as any farmer will tell you, even worse than not doing something in the field is not doing it right. So, I fill the role as gopher…go for this, go for that.


Rodney, who works full-time in a demanding job, has a wife and three kids and lives an hour and a half away, decided to drive up on two different days to help his Dad. This meant that ground was being worked ahead so the planter could follow right behind and twice as much work could be done in the same amount of time. In the narrow window of time that farmers get this year to get crops in, this was huge, especially since it was already the middle of June. When the last of the seed was in the ground, Rodney turned to his Dad and said “Happy Father’s Day.” Kudos to him.

Like all of us, he is busy beyond measure. Did he have the time to do this? Nope. Did he miss valuable weekend time with his wife and kids? Probably. Yet, he gave the best gift of all, the gift of time.

There is an irony to this. Rodney also got a gift in return. So many times, when families do get together, you never get to have that one-on-one time. Rodney got to spend time with his Dad…priceless for both of them. This is what the gift of time does.

Ron has an Aunt Betty who is in assisted living. We see her as often as we can, yet not nearly enough. She always brightens my day because she always has a smile, regardless of whether she is in pain or not. Whenever we leave we always ask if there is anything she wants and her answer is standard, ”Come back and see me soon.” All she wants is our time.

Over 30 years ago I learned this lesson about the gift of time and it still serves as a gentle reminder whenever I think that I am too busy for someone. I had always been close to my oldest uncle, a bachelor. One year in particular, I was young and had a full life and it was Christmas. I had decided that I would not see my uncle on that particular Christmas like I usually did because there was just too much going on. I’d see him in a day or so.


That year on Christmas Day, my whole day was planned. However, after church services on Christmas morning, something nudged me to turn the car the opposite way and go down and see my Uncle Harold. As I drove along, with the sun sparkling on the pristine snow, right in front of me was the brightest rainbow I had ever seen! It confirmed that I was doing the right thing and, how true it was, for it was the last Christmas I was to be with my uncle.

I hope that as long as I live, I never forget this lesson. I do treasure any gift that someone gives me, but most of all I treasure time spent with those I love and I hope I am never too busy to give that special gift to someone else.

The gift of time is the only gift in the world that gives two ways, to both the recipient and the giver. I know Ron and Rodney will both remember this special Father’s Day gift for years to come.

Images courtesy of Lois Hoffman


Country MoonWinter gives us its reprieve with warmer temperatures, the scent of spring flowers in the air and the return of critters, uninvited critters at that.

I understand that all creatures want to come out after the long winter and soak up some rays too. What I don’t understand is why they have to be in my home, in my garden, in my vehicles and, literally, everywhere I am. If it were just one species that had chosen to get on my nerves, I could probably cope. However, I have been invaded from so many different angles, I am not sure where to begin getting them under control.


Let’s start with the big problem…the deer. Last year in spite of putting up motion lights, using deer deterrent and scaring them off, they ate as many vegetables from my garden as I did. I am not willing to share so much this year. I am going to have to resort to the last method on my list, putting up a fence…sort of.

I really didn’t want to put up a permanent fence, so I am going to start with the middle-of-the-road fence solution. Many folks have claimed that if you drive stakes and string multiple strands of 30-pound weight fishing line taut between the posts it will do the trick. The line is fine enough that they can’t see it, thus it surprises them when they run into it…for a while until they get wise to it. So, I am going one step further and tying aluminum pie tins at strategic points so that they will make noise when the wind blows them into the metal stakes.

I have been assured that this is the best thing out there. Last year the deer wondered through my yard over to the soybeans across the road and had supper and then stopped at my garden for dessert on the way back to their shelter. I am sure this year will be even worse and that they may make my place the main course since I am getting kale across the road. I have never heard that deer have a keen yearning for kale.

As for my yard, like most everyone else, I have pretty much resolved myself that the moles will outlast me and will cause havoc wherever they please. So be it. I have a bigger problem with the squirrels. I used to have a few brown ones that would gather the black walnuts and hazelnuts. I guess it was too easy for them because now they have invited their cousins, the black squirrels who only used to live in town. Of course, the ground squirrels, or piney jacks, have always thought this place belonged to them. So much for my tulip bulbs that I planted last year!


Now, I know that mice are just a part of country living, especially in my stick-built garage that has seen its better years. There are a few holes here and there where they always find their way in. Spraying “Critter Out” chases them back outside for a while until they make another stab at it. I know that off and on there have been a few of those lovely rodents visit my garage.

Up until now we have co-existed with a mutual understanding. I don’t use D-Con because I don’t like waiting for them to get to that distinct odor stage before I find them. We had a truce, I did not resort to D-Con and they stayed out of my important stuff. They broke the treaty. One ventured into my truck and proceeded to leave shreds of paper and other little presents inside. Even worse, he/she set up housekeeping in the glove compartment…game on!

I cleaned the whole truck out, top to bottom. Sprinkled peppermint inside and put glue strips on the floor, with a note reminding me that they are there. They not only catch mice but also people’s shoes.

Then, I turned my attention to the source of the problem and bought four cans of expandable foam. I know, it makes a huge mess and looks awful, but desperation calls for desperate measures. After moving everything out and blowing the entire garage out with the leaf blower, me and my cans of foam crawled under the workbench and filled every little hole we could find. I guess that, if there is a bright side to this, it is that when I put stuff back, the garage actually got cleaned. After 5 ½ hours of sweeping, plugging and blowing, I am ready to take on the feistiest rodent. I mean business this time because, as much as it goes against my grain, I will resort to D-Con.

I am literally up against a wall when deciding how to tackle my next critter problem. I have a cardinal who will set for hours on end on the mirror or bed of Ron’s truck when it is here or my truck and attack the mirror. It thinks it is attacking its rival. Of course, it leaves a trail down the side of the trucks. It is also getting braver and a little less choosey and will also attack any vehicle that happens to be in my driveway. How embarrassing is that when company comes!

But it doesn’t stop there. When there are no vehicles setting out, it will perch itself on my deck and stare into the house. When I do go outside, it will perch in the tree and scream at me if I go any direction except toward the garage. It wants a vehicle in the yard. Who owns the place here anyway! I am beginning to wonder.

A few years ago, I was given a basket filled with some pampering goodies. Well, there were goodies all right. Also, hitchhiking in the basket, powderpost beetles came along for the ride. I didn’t realize it until they had burrowed into the oak baseboards. What they do is chew the hardwood until it is pulverized. They had started to venture out into the hardwood floor before I discovered them.

Cedar oil is a natural alternative and works well to kill them. You just spray it into their tiny holes. This was last year and I have seen no recent signs of them…until the day I found the mouse in the truck. Is this a coordinated effort on the part of all critters to hit me all at once?

Yesterday morning three wild turkeys crossed my yard. I have no qualms with them, they were just passing through…I hope. As I am writing this, a movement caught my eye outside my office window. It is a pair of sand hill cranes out in the field. Perhaps they are the only critters in my neighborhood with respect. They keep their distance and I will keep mine; we can co-exist just fine this way.

Mind you, this is early in the season, I haven’t even gotten the garden underway yet. Who knows what other critters will decide to call it home?

I think perseverance is the key here. It is daunting to deal with so many critters that want to call this home. At times it is overwhelming but I will prevail. Until they start paying taxes on this little spot of earth that God entrusted to me, I rule…lest they forget it and then I will prepare for real battle!

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