Monday, June 30, 2014

From One Little Tree

I thought it only appropriate to write June's poem about cherries since I spent several days of the month picking the small, juicy fruit. From those cherries, I made a cobbler that my brother completely enjoyed, letting everyone at the dinner table know this by the look of sheer delight on his face and the mmmmmm's he made with each bite. From those cherries, I made a peace offering to the mother of Funny Delightful Son's girlfriend (long story--kind of funny but at the same time not so funny--which I will write about soon). I haven't received any response from her concerning the cherries, but I did hear from Funny Delightful Son that she made a pie from them the day she received them. From those cherries, I bartered with a friend, giving her some in exchange for greens from her garden. And from those cherries, I made jam. Sweet, pie-filling in a jar jam that I have shared with Lovely Beautiful Daughter and good friends. The cherry tree provided a bounty to us this season, and for that I am grateful.

Simple Abundance

The cherry tree planted in the northeast corner of the yard,
near the unpainted picket fence,
after the bitter cold, snowy winter months,
overnight became smothered in white blossoms,
as if someone spent hours
patiently draping garlands of delicate blooms around each branch.
Ten years the tree has been there, offering its round fruit,
first green but with the sun's warmth turns rose then ruby,
ready to be plucked from the stems,
ready to have the pit removed then tossed into a bowl,
where sticky juice pools at the bottom,
and the fruit with its juice are ready
to become cherry pie, cherry cobbler, cherry jam,
even cherry infused grappa resting in a cupboard,
the cherries, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, red wine
with brown sugar meshing under cover of cool darkness,
every three days shaken to release more sour,
imbue more sugar and spice until four weeks pass,
when it will be ready.
One bag of cherries remains, frozen,
to be pulled out when the cherry tree sleeps
under a blanket of snow during the winter months,
to be mixed with sugar, piled into a crust, then baked,
its sweet summer scent chasing away the day's cold.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Smokin' the Bees

I reek. From smoke. But, I did find out the hive is doing okay.

After dinner, I ventured outside to do some gardening. I looked over at the hive and noticed lots of bees outside the hive like I'd seen the other day. Many were coming and going, too, and across the street, I could see quite a few (at least I think they were some of my bees) sort of in a swirling flying pattern. Thankfully, they were maybe 25 or 30 feet in the air, so they weren't going to harm anyone walking by. I decided to go ahead and check the hive to see if anything was amiss inside, like hive beetles. I've been reading up on what could be making the bees act like petulant children, and hive beetles is one of them. I really didn't want to see beetles.

So I donned my awesome astronaut bee suit, stoked the smoker until I had a good stream of smoke floating in the air (actually, I think I went overkill on the smoke--but it did what it's supposed to do), and went to work. Removing the super was easy, and right away, I could tell there wasn't much happening there. That's the part of the hive where the honey I'll take will be created. As of right now, there isn't any. I was a little bummed in seeing this, but I figured from the get-go that this summer I may not get any honey for us. Looks like I was right.

When I went into the box under the super, I could see lots of action happening there. I pulled out a frame from the middle of the box, a frame covered in comb. I checked a couple of the other frames and saw the same thing. What I should have done but didn't was switch the covered frames for those with no comb on them that are on each end of the box. I definitely am going to go back in and do this soon. The good news is I saw no beetles. Just busy, busy bees doing what they're supposed to be doing.

After inspecting that box, I wanted to get at the bottom box. I used my pry tool to loosen the edges of the box, but when I tried to pick it up, I couldn't. It's just too heavy with the comb covering the frames. I now am in a pickle. How am I going to get that box off the one under it? I think I'm going to have to call someone who is much more experienced with beekeeping than I am to come help me.

Seeing that everything seems to be going the way it should be in the hive makes me feel a lot better. I did some more reading after checking the hive, and one article said rainy weather accompanied by heat and high humidity will agitate bees. I'm thinking this might be the reason my bees have seemed so active. We certainly have had rainy, hot, humid weather. Hopefully, the weather will calm down and in response, so will the bees.

The next time I go into the hive, I'll try to get some pictures. The honeycomb is so cool to see, and the fact that the bees have created as much as they have in just 7 weeks is truly something.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Fun

Along with cycling this summer, I've been spending time working on the gardens. For now, I have four raised beds at the east side of the house, a garden spot on the south side of the house, and a fruit garden at the west end of the house. If it were up to me, I'd have the entire north side of the house in raised beds, but that's been a hard sell to the boys, mostly because of the mowing difficulties it would create. I'm not giving up, though. One day, the north side will be raised beds.

So far, the plants I've put in are doing well, even the bush bean plants I bought that seemed all but salvageable. I truly thought I'd wasted nearly $20 on them, but in the good composted soil where I'd buried the fish carcasses from last summer, they are now thriving. We've had enough rain that I haven't had to water, and my rain barrel remains overflowing. A second barrel is on my mind since I could always use the water from it in the fruit garden. There, the grapes are climbing the trellis I put in last summer, each day covering more and more of it. Soon the trellis will be completely covered. The raspberry plants have spread to the point I can't keep up with them. Tomorrow is the designated digging up raspberry plants to thin the patch. Same goes for the strawberries. Vines have spread beyond the little fenced area I made for them, so it's time to curtail their wanderings. To date, I've picked two quarts of strawberries from the small area, enough to make some jam, which is also on tomorrow's schedule.

Cherry jam spread on cream cheese
Unfortunately, it appears the apple trees won't bear this season. My two dwarf trees I planted last summer had their trunks gnawed away by rabbits during the winter. By the time I realized what was happening and wrapped them from further harm, the damage had already been done. I ended up having to replace both trees with new ones, and these have to go through a season or two before they'll produce apples. The one tree that did produce this season is the cherry tree. Lots of cherries. Enough for a cherry cobbler. Enough to infuse grappa to enjoy in a few weeks. Enough to make 8 half pints of jam (which, given the response from Funny Delightful Son when he tasted some, won't last long). Enough to barter with a friend for greens from her garden. And still more in the freezer for a later date, maybe a winter cherry pie to remind us of the warmth of summer.

Another job I need to complete soon is checking on the hive. When I arrived home from my 70 miler today, I looked over at the hive and noticed quite a few bees on the hive and others flying erratically around it. They seemed very agitated. It could have been caused by the weather we've had the last few days--storms, wind, heat then cool then heat again. I checked on them several times throughout the evening and saw they were settling down as the sun set, so hopefully everything is okay. I still want to check the hive, though, to make sure all is the way it should be.

In between doing these summer gardening jobs, I've started a few new bicycle art projects. My hope is to create some pieces for the craft fair later in the year. I had such fun at the craft fair last year I decided to sign up again, and thanks to Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her friend, I have lots of materials to work with. Interesting materials. So stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Week Three of Summer Cycling

I'm now into week three of my summer of cycling throughout central Illinois, and I have all but thrown out the schedule of routes I meticulously laid out for myself. I've completed some of the routes, but given the wind, the rain, and some family hiccups, I just couldn't stay on track. Now, I simply look at the weather right before I start out, determine which way the wind is blowing, and decide on a route based on going into the wind for half the ride. I kind of like the whatever comes my way method of cycling. Some areas are brand new to me, bringing new scenery, roads, and people. So far, I've received nothing but smiles and waves from motorists, and I hope this continues through the rest of the summer.

A young red tailed hawk
This week, I ventured out to a small town I visited about 14 years ago to determine if it might be a place I wanted to settle with the kids. Though I liked the town, it was a bit too far from work, and there really isn't anything there. Not even a gas station. I'd kind of forgotten about the place until the other day when I was deciding on where to cycle. It popped up on the map, so I said, "Why not?" As I cycled south into the area, I wondered why I'd not been that way before. The roads were smooth, with a few hills thrown in here and there to keep things interesting. The fields changed from soy beans to corn to wheat to alfalfa. Creeks cut through the land, giving me bridges to stop on to get a drink and enjoy the swallows stirred by my presence. To date, that ride has been the most pleasant.

Love the white tail!
Today, I decided to venture back that way, but instead of going into the town, I continued south. I had seen four silos side by side the other day, and I wanted to check them out. So I did. I ended up at a church out in the middle of nowhere, so I stopped there, drank some water, then decided to return home. The silos weren't much to admire, just four brown silos in the middle of a field. I could have taken a picture of them, but they just didn't strike me as being photo worthy. I was a bit bummed as I try to get a picture of something on each ride, and at that point, I hadn't seen anything that struck my fancy.

The ride home was tough. I simply haven't been eating enough to keep fuel in the tank for 60+ miles. I know this. Still, I can't bring myself to eat what I need to. I try to eat a good breakfast before starting out, and I always take food with me for along the way, but after two and a half weeks of burning an average of 2300 calories a day, my body is saying, "Hey, you, eat more or I'm going to crap out on you." I really felt this today. I had no gas in the tank by mile 55. I ended up limping home. Once home and showered, I scarfed down a Big Mac and fries, a meal I very rarely eat. My taste buds were very happy campers, and my stomach was saying, "Finally. Now this is a meal, unlike those bananas and multigrain bars you've been eating." I know if I'm going to increase my mileage (I'd like to get to 80 miles consistently) I'm going to have to eat more. So, time to stop worrying about eating too much and eat to make sure my body doesn't crap out on me again.

Though I didn't get a photo today, I did get a short video of a killdeer playing injured to lure me away from her young. I was pedaling along when all the sudden four very young killdeer scattered into the road. I dodged two of them. The frantic parents were busy trying to convince me they were injured, and I was able to get some video of what they do to protect their babies.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Marriage: A Meeting in the Middle?

Monday marked the 9th wedding anniversary for Hubby and me. We went to a nicer restaurant in town to have dinner and celebrate. Unfortunately, what should have been a lovely dinner spiraled downward, each of us unhappy with the other by the time we left the restaurant. One comment Hubby made stayed with me the next few days, and Friday, on our way home from taking Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her boyfriend to the airport (another unfortunate event--they were flying to Boston after learning of the unexpected death of her boyfriend's father), Hubby and I talked further about his comment to me at our anniversary dinner. I told him I was considering writing about it here, and he replied that he would love to see what comments I receive regarding this subject. So, here goes.

My perspective of a marriage is it is a partnership. Each member of the relationship helps the other out simply because, to me, that's what a partnership entails. Including housework. Yeah. This is why our dinner eroded. Housework. My perspective is I am not a maid. I am a wife, mother, teacher, writer, artist, friend, daughter, sister, and cyclist. Nowhere on the list is maid. I work full time, which for a teacher is over 40 hours a week. When I am finished at work, I am not in any way eager to return home to commence cleaning house. But I do because there's always things that need to be done. At times, I get annoyed with having to spend my time cleaning instead of doing other things, especially when someone else has been home but didn't do some of the things that needed to be done. When I said as much to Hubby, his reply was, "I don't like doing housework." And I do? The next comment is what stayed with me: "I only do it so I don't have to listen to you bitch."

Ummmmm. Yeah.

After letting this comment settle, I realized something about my marriage, something I'd been kind of seeing for awhile now but didn't really want to face. My marriage isn't a partnership. It's a relationship in which two people live together but one person doesn't want to have to meet the other halfway. I'm okay with being told my asking for help with housework is bitching. I'm not okay learning the man I married doesn't look at our relationship as a partnership, one in which we do things for each other simply because doing so makes the other happy. When I suggested he is living in the 1950's, that there are men today who take an active role in helping with the housework, Hubby responded by saying I'm wrong, that men today don't do any more housework now than they did in the 1950's.

So there you go. Do men help with housework more today than in the 1950's? Do you know of husbands who take an active role in cleaning and keeping the house in order?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Day 1 Summer Ride

I left out early this morning, around 6, to begin my summer of riding central Illinois for Bike the US for MS. I love being out before most people have roused from sleep. The streets are empty, making cycling Main and other higher traffic streets a breeze. From the driveway to the other side of town, about 5 miles, I didn't have one car pass me from behind, and only a couple passed from the opposite direction. Riding is extra sweet when few cars are on the road.

Today's route took me northeast, to the small town of Fairbury. According to my map, the distance from the driveway to the center of Fairbury was around 35 miles. The sun was shining. Them temp around 65. The wind was at my back. While I knew I was getting a lot of help from the wind going out, and I would be fighting it on the way back, I couldn't help but simply enjoy rolling along. For the time being, conditions for cycling were perfect.

Almost as soon as I started out, my thoughts turned to my mom. Two years ago today, I started out of Yorktown, no sooner having begun the first day of cycling that I couldn't keep the tears from falling. Today, the tears didn't fall. Today, I thought about hearing from my cousin just yesterday and her sharing a memory she has of my mom before I was born, before she had even married my dad. The memory was of a saddle my mom had, one that my cousin's family stored for her in their attic. My cousin said she remembers the leather, the smell of it, and how she was fascinated with the saddle. I loved hearing this. I imagine a saddle on a saddle stand in an attic, and a small girl going into the attic just to smell the leather, to run her hands over the cantle and the pommel. Perhaps the little girl even sits on the saddle to daydream about riding a horse. My mom loved horses, especially her sorrel mustang, Brandy. Hearing about this memory gave me something I'd not known before directly connected to my mom, and because of this, going out today, doing what I'm doing in her memory and for all those with MS, I only felt happiness.

Old Route 66
These thoughts and lots of others floated around in my head during my ride today. Cycling long distance definitely gives me the opportunity to just mull things over. Sometimes the thoughts are happy, other times not so much, but no matter what kind of thoughts I'm pondering, I certainly have the time to work through them. Which I did with one thought in particular today. I reached the point of saying aloud, out in the middle of nowhere, "Time to put it to rest." And it wasn't until just now, typing this, that I came back to that thought since telling myself it was time to let it go.

My face the last 15 miles
The ride back from Fairbury was tough, especially the last 15 miles. Having a 15 mph wind in my face for much of the return was tiring. I reached the point of simply focusing on five mile increments. The moment I could see the subdivision at the edge of town I sighed. I knew I was almost done. Though I still had 5 miles through town to get to home, I wouldn't have to battle the wind like I had out in the country. My discomfort for the day was ending.

Tomorrow the forecast is thunderstorms with 19 mph winds out of the southwest. I had initially planned to go east, but I'm going to switch to a more southerly route. I'd much rather ride into the wind for the first half of the ride, as there's nothing more delicious when cycling than the moment of turning around and having the wind at your back.