Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter 22

May 23rd – Tired … tired, tired, tired. But feeling pretty good. I think I may have picked the last of the blueberries for canning. There are still some that are kind of pinkish like they are trying to ripen but not enough to really bother with except to use for fresh. Today I think I picked the last full bucket and had blueberry dumplings again with enough left over to can one more batch of blueberry preserves. I was reading Momma’s notes and she made it out that blueberry season should last longer … like a whole month … but I can’t see that happening unless you start counting from when the first one ripens until the last berry falls off the bush. The only other thing I can think of is that the bushes haven’t been fertilized real regularly for the last two years and maybe that is why. I’ll make note of it in my gardening calendar pages and will just have to see how it goes next year.

And there is going to be a next year. I’m feeling better and better about that. Today I went salvaging again. All four houses seemed to have at least a half bag of potting soil out in their sheds and some dead houseplants hanging around. While that seems kind of useless it isn’t to me. Every little bit of dirt was a bit of dirt I didn’t have to dig up by hand. Those big tubs were hard to fill. I think I made the right decision to line them up in the orchard. I don’t know if that will keep the deer away but I hope so. The deer haven’t found my fruit trees yet so maybe they’ll over look the containers too. Or maybe it is the tall gates and brambleberry hedges that have kept them out. Momma made some notes on deer I need to read.

When I went salvaging the super neat little house gave me the most useful things. I guess who ever lived there was kind of yard proud though most of it is dried up and kind of crunchy now. There were several bags of top soil and potting soil and all sorts of odds and ends like fertilizers with different numbers on them, milorganite (treated sewage - major ew factor there), bone meal, blood meal, lime, sphagnum moss, lots of specialty plant foods and lots of other science experiment kind of stuff that plants really like apparently. I’m not sure how all of that stuff is going to come in handy but I hauled it all back to the house. I figure when I do start a for real garden that this stuff will help me get a good start. I don’t know what I’ll do after that; I need to read more of Momma’s gardening books and see what I can come up with.

Following some of Momma’s hand written notes she said to get a tarp and put a shovel of top soil, a shovel of sand, and shove of potting mixture and keep doing that until I had what I needed for filling the pots. It got to be a mess on the tarp – I don’t think Momma was thinking about anything but small pots – so I started mixing the stuff in the wheelbarrow so I wouldn’t have to bend down so much or slice the tarp when I was trying to scoop it up with the shovel. I had twelve barrels to work with and that was a doggone lot of dirt to fill them up. My back and shoulders ache like I’ve been rearranging cases of frozen chicken parts for two week straight at the diner.

In the bottom of each barrel I put some old newspaper I had found to cover the big drainage holes so soil wouldn’t fall out. I went to all that trouble to put it in there, I want it to stay in there. Next I added a layer of gravel that I shoveled out of house number one’s drive way. I had to do it by the bucket full and dump it into the wheelbarrow. That was a treat. Not. Then it was time to start filling the pots with dirt. Whoa baby, I had no idea how much work that was going to be. It took me hours to get all of those things filled up and just as soon as I finished the last one it started to rain. All I can say is that the rain will save me from having to carry bucket after bucket of water to make the dirt all wet before I plant my seeds tomorrow.

I made myself practice shooting even though no one is around to make me. I haven’t seen anyone … or heard anyone … since Rand and his family left. I’m hoping that is a good thing but after everything that Rand said about what is going on I don’t know. And I don’t know how many bullets I’m supposed to shoot when I practice so what I did was just fill each gun three times. The noise and the jumping of the guns don’t bother me so much as they used to now that I know what to expect. The pistol … that Hi-something or other that was the gangbanger’s gun … still feels funny in my hand and I’m not sure I’m standing right but I’m getting better.

The poor tree that I have been shooting at needed a break so I started lining up old cans I found on some tree stumps and rocks. I’m hitting the cans more often than not but I’m standing pretty close. Next time I practice I’ll stand further back.

I finally have enough hot water to take a bath that wouldn’t freeze a polar bear’s tush off. That’s where I am going because I’m tired of being dirty and stinky; and that’s all for tonight.

May 24th – I am sore today but all of the seeds are planted. I was starving this morning when I woke up so I fixed an omelet with cheese and onions. My breath wasn’t pretty but my stomach was happy. There is a can of dried mushrooms so I might try and make a mushroom omelet someday soon.

Right after breakfast I grabbed my seeds and headed out to the orchard. I topped off a couple of the barrels that looked like the dirt had compacted down. I keep rethinking the fact that I’m not adding any fertilizer but I’m worried that could kill stuff before it even has a chance to grow. The potting mixture and top soil is already that Miracle-Gro brand that has fertilizer in it. I’ll just have to keep an eye on things.

I planted four of the barrels with black eyed peas. I looked all over Momma’s square foot gardening books for “black eyed peas” but didn’t find it until I looked in the index and saw they are called “cowpeas” or “southern peas” by most people. For these seeds I could plant eight to a barrel since I was counting a barrel as a square foot; it was bigger than a square foot but I figured it would be too hard to do it any other way.

Three of the barrels I planted Lima beans in. Lima beans aren’t my favorite but when you are hungry they are as good as anything else. I figured one of these days I might appreciate those lima beans so I planted them and I also sowed them eight seeds to a barrel.

The eggplants are kind of iffy. There were only a few seeds in that bag and the book said I should only sow one eggplant per square foot but I went ahead and planted two because the barrel is bigger than a square foot. I’m not partial to eggplant unless it has the slime factor fried out of them. Grilled they are OK and we sometimes did that at the diner but to be honest they just kind of give me the heebie jeebies. They look like pods that some alien laid or something. But again, if I’m hungry enough I’ll eat them. I’m not that picky.

The cantaloupes were an even bigger problem. I love melon; I mean I would eat it every day for breakfast and dessert if I could. Momma used to make pickled cantaloupe and cantaloupe preserves too. But I remember Momma used to have to give those suckers room to grow when she planted them back in Tampa. They had runners on them that went every which a way. For the melons I planted two per barrel and planted three barrels of cantaloupes. If all six plants actually make I hope to have all the melon I can want … for a little while any way. I’m also going to plant some of the cantaloupe seeds in the flower beds that are on the sunny side of the house. Momma had Daddy dig that all out and put in good dirt so I’m pretty sure that it should be OK. I just have to take off the bark mulch and pull back the plastic that is underneath. Nothing has ever been planted in there, Momma just never got the chance and Aunt Wilma was never inclined to when she would only get to see it once a year.

Got another little afternoon shower so I didn’t even have to cart water over. I think I’m going to set up a rain barrel out in the orchard so I don’t have to carry water any more than necessary. We’ll see.

By lunch I was hungry again and I was craving meat. I haven’t really had any in a long while, not real meat. It could have been worse I suppose; I might not have the beans or the TVP to try and offset my craving. But sometimes when you want something that is all you want and no substitution will do. Like pizza, I think about pizza sometimes but I try not to. I know Momma used to make a pizza in the Dutch oven but I haven’t had time to look for her recipe file yet … and it’s gotta be there someplace, Momma was a bear for writing stuff like that down and adding it to her recipe collections.

I decided to crack open one of the cans of freeze dried chicken. What I saw when I opened the can didn’t look too good but I figured that since I had already opened the can I had to use it. Glad I did because it actually wasn’t too bad. I made chicken salad casserole. I wish I had some sandwich bread or crackers but I made some pan biscuits and they weren’t bad either.

First I took two cups of the freeze dried chicken, two cups of freeze dried celery, and two teaspoons of dried chopped onion and rehydrated them. I wish I hadn’t used so much celery but I thought it was a good idea at the time to stretch everything else. I also rehydrated a cup of freeze dried cheddar cheese and that was kind of weird looking but actually turned out good. I wondered why Daddy had bought all that freeze dried cheese on top of all of the powdered cheese but now I think I know … just don’t eat it straight out of the can, I tried it and I almost couldn’t make myself swallow it. Major double eeewww.

I dumped the chicken, celery, and onion into the Dutch oven and added some salt, some sweet hot dog relish from some packets I had collected along my trek, and about a cup of mayo. I’m in trouble with the mayo though because it has to be refrigerated after opening and I didn’t think about that until it was too late. It’s a small jar and I put it in the cooler with well water so I hope that it keeps until I can use the rest, I just don’t know what I’m going to use it for yet.

After I got all of that mixed up I put the rehydrated cheese on top and then sprinkled some crushed potato chips on top of that from that stash of junk food from the fourth house. I’m probably going to wake up with another zit in the morning but I don’t care. A girl needs her junk food every once in a while.

I baked the casserole kind of chicken salad thing in the Dutchie for fifteen minutes by putting hot coals on the top of the lid as well as around the bottom. I checked it but it needed a few more minutes and then it was done. There was a lot more of it than I had expected. I had it for lunch and dinner and there was still a spoonful left that I just couldn’t force myself to eat so I gave it to Fraidy. She picked out all the chicken and left the celery. I’ve never had leftovers before. I dug a hole outside and buried them. So today’s lesson is to be careful about how much I cook. It might have not been very wasteful this time but next time I could do worse … so I don’t want to have a next time.

The casserole leftovers made me wonder how Rand is doing. I never really had a bunch of friends but I could always pick up the phone and call someone if I wanted to know how they were doing. Now I guess if I want to know I’ll have to find another way. I’m thinking about riding my bike over there and paying a visit but I don’t know yet. I wasn’t invited exactly, only in an emergency. But maybe if I find something that could be useful to them it would be OK.

I can at least tell Rand that I’m practicing … oh, wait, I can’t because he doesn’t know about all of Daddy’s ammo. Maybe I could tell him that I found some more, but that would be kind of lying. Maybe I can just give him blank face if he says something’ that usually drives people crazy and they start going off about something else and we get off the subject I didn’t want to talk about. I guess I’ll just have to play it by ear.

Before I closed up for the night I put some beans to cooking in the ground. I’ll have beans tomorrow but instead of rice I’m going to fry some cornbread. I’m getting a little sick of rice. I’m thinking that instead of trying to plan my menu day-by-day I should try and plan it for the whole week and that way I wouldn’t get so burned out on stuff.

May 25th – I’m bored. OK, not really, but yes I am. No fruit to pick, no plants to plant, no cows to feed, no reason to cook much because I did most of it the night before. I spent the first half of the day picking up wood. I’m not going through as much since I’m not canning but since I know I’m going to need it shortly for the blackberries I might as well get a jump start.

I tried using the ax on the downed tree but could only whack off some of the smaller branches. I wound up using one of Daddy’s saws and got a lot more done that way. I stopped when the wind picked up. For some reason I’m scared the tree is going to roll over on me if I cut the wrong limb. Maybe stupid, maybe not … better safe than sorry.

The wind brought rain with it so I’ve been stuck inside. I had to dig my beans out in the rain which was so not fun but at least they were ready and not still crunchy. I fried up cornbread on the grill and to make it a little different I added some seasoning to the batter.

I took a box of cornbread mix, added powdered eggs and powdered milk, then added a little poultry seasoning and close to a cup of water to get the batter just the right consistency. After that it is easy, you just cook dollops of it the same way you would pancakes. Next time I won’t add quite so much poultry seasoning … it was a little too much something … but it made a nice change and it helped with the beans since they turned out a little bland because I didn’t add enough salt.

I was at loose ends once it started raining so I cleaned around the house but I’d been picking up after myself as I went so there wasn’t that much to do. The kind of stuff that was left like dusting and sweeping I just wasn’t in the mood for doing. I did sweep off the front porch and the lanai but that didn’t take long and I was at loose ends again.

With all the extra time I had I decided to look through some more of Daddy’s and Momma’s notes. I’ve got a ton of ideas and absolutely no way to get them done. Daddy had notes on how he would build a stockade around the house but it included using the PTO on the tractor to dig the holes and fence posts and wood that he planned on buying … that never happened. There were notes on expanding the solar power by buying more panels and whatsiwhosits but that never happened either. He was going to have a big propane tank brought in and filled and a kerosene tank too but … well, you get the picture. My parents had a lot of plans but ran out of time to accomplish them. I guess that happened to a lot of people.

Now I have to make my own plans and they don’t include having access to a ton of fuel like Mr. Henderson seems to. They don’t include being able to power my house with solar panels, though I’m sure there are people somewhere that are doing that. I don’t have a ton of anything. They sure don’t include going the way of the Harbingers and just taking what I need from other people.

I need to figure out how to get enough that doesn’t include the expectation of it being given to me for nothing in return or finding it lying out with no one else already claiming it. I might be able to put that “abandoned property” rule to good use but not for food.

Work smarter, not harder. I have to think like that all the time now. One of the things I thought about came from a funny place. I was rearranging some of the books up in the bonus room I want to turn into a library when I ran across my old Little House on the Prairie books. I read the paper back versions until they fell apart so for my tenth birthday Daddy bought me the whole series in hardback. While I was remembering that I thought about Ma Ingalls. Momma always reminded me of Ma Ingalls. She was sweet and could do all this stuff for our family and kind of kept us together.

One of the other similarities between Momma and Ma Ingalls was how they did house work. Both of them had specific tasks for each day of the week. I vaguely remember asking Momma about it one time and she said that she had learned it from her mother and that it was just the way women used to do things before so many of them went off to work outside the home. She said it helped keep things neat and organized. I think I’m going to so that as well. It will at least keep me from having to guess at what I need to put on my daily chore list.

Ma Ingall’s Chore List goes like this:

"Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday."

Well, I can tell you I’m not ironing anything if I can help it. I have Momma’s old sadirons but no way I am going to iron my t-shirts and blue jeans, there’s no sense to it. And the sheets and bedding get pretty straight on the clothes line and I sure as heck am not going to iron towels and washcloths. That would just be plain silly. And if there are a few wrinkles in things there is no one but me around to see them and I never cared too much about that stuff.

Mending might be a good chore to keep but I think I’ll change it to a sewing day. Momma taught me to sew and one of my grandmothers taught me to crochet while the other taught me to cross stitch and do needle point. I need practice but I know I can do it because I would always do something like that for Aunt Wilma as a Christmas gift. It seemed to surprise her every year that I’d go to the trouble when I could just buy something at the store. And I’d make new pillow cases for Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie every year for their anniversary and Aunt Wilma actually used them so they couldn’t be that terrible.

I don’t have a cow to churn butter from so that one is out and not much reason to bake bread either right now since I can just make biscuits as I need them. I am going to keep the wash day and the cleaning day but I’m going to switch it around some.

So here is my cleaning chore list:

Gather wood on Monday
on Tuesday
Sew on Wednesday
on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Wash on Saturday
Rest of Sunday

I’m not sure what I need to do on Tuesday and Thursday yet. I know I’ll figure it out sooner or later. I have a bunch of daily stuff I have to do like dishes, cooking, taking care of Fraidy (when she lets me), gardening, preserving food (if everything grows like it is supposed to), and then I’ve got some ideas of other things I want to do as well.

Today is Thursday which makes tomorrow Friday and a cleaning day. But I’ve already cleaned everything pretty well except for dusting and moping. What I am going to do tomorrow is go salvaging at the houses for book cases. If I can’t find ready-made book cases that I can move by myself I might try taking them apart and then putting them back together. If that fails I’m hoping to find something that I can use to build book cases with.

That is probably going to take most of tomorrow, but it should count as something that goes with cleaning day. I’ll be getting the books up off the floor upstairs.

May 26th – The only thing that makes this stupid goose egg in the middle of my forehead worth getting is I now have a whole wall of book cases up stairs that match. I found them in three different houses. The one house – the little neat house – that I thought would give me exactly what I needed wound up giving me nothing; well, except for some book ends that have come in handy. All of the books cases at that house were either these big, heavy things that I would never be abe to move or were built into the wall.

I found three in the first house, two more in the really messy house, and then three of them in the fourth house that always gives me a funny feeling to be in. I guess they were having a sale at Walmart and everyone must have got them at the same time. Two of them are painted black and the rest are stained to look like wood. OK, so they aren’t as fancy as the ones at the neat little house but I could move them and that is about all I care about at this point. They have a Better Homes & Gardens sticker on them so they can’t be that awful.

Once I had found the first ones in the first house (one was in the girl’s room, one in the boy’s room and one out in the living room) I had to unload all of the stuff on and around them. That was kind of depressing. In the boy’s room there was a girly magazine and a pack of cigarettes. I would have laughed if it hadn’t been so sad. It seems the stories about some boys hiding stuff like this from their parents were really true and not just silliness you saw in the movies.

The empty shelves weren’t really heavy, not at first anyway, but they were awkward to carry and I wound up having to take the shelves that were adjustable out of them. That’s how I came by the goose egg. I was moving a book case around and one of the shelves slipped out and conked me in the forehead. I was bent over trying not to cry like a baby … who was there to see anyway … when I looked under a table slid up against the kitchen wall and spotted a box full of cans of cat food and some kitty litter. That explains the boy cat smell in the house.

The three shelves from that house smelled just a little but by the time I got them back to the house using my handy dandy wheelbarrow technique of moving, they were already smelling OK. I left them out on the front porch for good measure until I went back for the other book cases.

After I moved all the junk off of a book case and then got it out of the house it generally took me twenty minutes to get it to my fence, heft it over and then use the wheelbarrow to get it the rest of the way home. Even that got easier though when I found a dolly at the messy house. So yeah, figure an average of twenty to thirty minutes per book case just to move them. I was at the moving part almost four hours and that didn’t include finding them, unloading them of whatever was already on them and then getting them out of the house. The fourth house was a real trip because I had to move so much stuff just to get to the book cases and then move even more just to get the book cases out of the house.

I was another hour and a half figuring out how to get the book cases up stairs because the stairwell was closed in and made a right hand turn half way up. It made me understand why the lawyer hadn’t kept more of our furniture from the house in Tampa.

I took a short break and went practice shooting. My head hurt so bad that every time I shot my head felt like someone was hitting my forehead with a hammer. I didn’t even practice as much as I should have, I just couldn’t stand it.

After I finally got them upstairs it was smooth sailing. I had already put the books in piles the way I wanted them on shelves so all I had to do was load the bookcases and stand back and admire what I had managed to accomplish all by myself. It would have been nice to show off to someone else but that wasn’t going to happen so I decided I was finished working for the day and went back downstairs, took care of my dinner and mess and then grabbed some of Momma’s books and came up to the dormer room to review my day.

One of the things that I need to think on is where to move all of the photo boxes that I found. Well, I thought they were photo boxes but I knocked the lid off of one – I’ll admit I’ve been avoiding looking in them – and the box didn’t have photos in it but oversized index cards. Each index card was a different recipe. Each of the two dozen photo boxes held different types of recipes. One box was marked beverage, another was marked “fish & seafood,” and another that said “game.” Each of the boxes also had dividers in there that separated stuff; like in the “game” box there were tabs for venison, boar, alligator, and a bunch of other stuff I have a hard time imagining that I would eat. Some of the boxes looked like they were labeled the same, like there were two marked “fowl.” But, one of them said “fowl-chicken” and the other said “fowl-other.”

I pulled out a couple of the index cards and they are all in my mother’s handwriting. I can’t for the life of me remember these things; I know she collected recipes and cookbooks but … it bothers me that I don’t remember these. They must have been a lot of work and they must have been important to here. You’d think I could remember something about a collection like this. Now I wonder if I have lost more memories than I thought or if I was just more clueless than I thought. I miss my mother. I wish she was here for me to ask. How am I supposed to figure all of this stuff out without her?

May 27th – I was kind of out of it when I woke up this morning. I kept dreaming about my parents and little brother. But it was all pictures and no sound and I kept asking them what they were saying but they just laughed and kept on talking like I was funning them. What made it worse was that I knew absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt what they were saying was important but I couldn’t hear them. I woke up at four o’clock bad sick to my stomach and I barely got to the trash can before I puked up a bunch of acid. It’s been a long time since I did that. I mean I’ve puked but not acid from being stressed out. I used to take Tagamet and Zantac it was so bad. I hope I’m not doing that again. I plan on being real careful, there is not doctor for me to visit to fix it.

I drank a glass of milk real slowly and then went outside to try and clear my head. Fraidy thought it was cool that I was outside so early. She kept rubbing against my leg to get some attention. When the sky was pink enough that I could walk around without tripping over stuff I walked out to the orchard to get the kinks out of my muscles and to check on things. I pulled off a cupful of berries and took them back to the house with me.

I think the garden is going to take the place of the cows as far as work goes. I am watering the containers every day that it doesn’t rain. Since it didn’t rain yesterday or today I had to water … which meant running back and forth to the rain barrel. I think I will try and move a rain barrel out there. I saw a drawing in one of my dad’s notebooks on make a “tarp funnel” for a rain barrel to catch water. I wonder if that is why Daddy bought all of these tarps I keep finding all over the place. There is a bunch of them stacked in his hidden storage room in the barn. One of them was nibbled on by something but the others were just fine. I found tarps at the four salvage houses too; it will be a long time before I run out of those suckers.

The blueberries I kind of stewed into a filling while I gathered together what I needed to start the day. When the berries were finished I made a little pat-in-the-pan crust … a real easy pie crust that you just kind of use your hands to make and pat out. It’s not pretty like a rolled crust is but it’s hard to make a mistake with it. Then I made fried pies. Fried pies are really easy. Pinch off some dough, flatten it out, put your filling in the middle, fold one half over and seal it with a fork around the edges. Then you just fry in a skillet of butter. I had powdered butter and I had non-stick spray flavored like butter. I went with the non-stick spray. I made enough fried pies for breakfast and lunch. They were good. I remember when I was really little and watching my Aunt Flossie (my grandfather’s sister) make them for the first time. She stood me up on a chair and I got to stand right by the stove and flip them all by myself. I thought I was hot stuff.

Today is Saturday and I kept to my new schedule once I had gotten up and moving; I washed clothes. I didn’t have a lot to wash so I went over my whole “wardrobe” and made a list of things that I needed or could use more of. I also decided to go back to the salvage houses and grab anything that was made of jean material and to try and fill in the gaps I was finding in my wardrobe. I found Momma’s pattern for making jean skirts out of old blue jeans and I am determined that once I can figure out had to fix the treadle sewing machine that I am going to make that blue jean quilt.

My problem is under things. I wonder what other girls are doing. The elastic is going in two of my bras and I’m a little bit on the bosomy side so it’s not like I can just go without. And it is kind of freaking me out thinking about having to wear someone else’s. It doesn’t look like I’m going to have any choice except that there weren’t any that fit me in any of those houses. The idea of traipsing around the county looking through a bunch of abandoned houses hoping to find something that will fit me the way it is supposed to is just … icky.

There was a stall at the farmer’s market that had all these bras and slips and stuff hanging on strings between the poles holding up a canopy and there was more stuff laying on tables but I didn’t really look at what they had. There were women and girls over there though, and a couple of men too that just handed lists to the lady manning the stall; I guess they were shopping on behalf of their womenfolk. I just couldn’t bring myself to look and now I wish I had. I need to get over myself I guess.

After I hung the last load of blue jeans that I washed out to dry I made myself practice double since I had cut it short yesterday. I took five steps back from where I normally stand and it took me several tries before I could hit the cans again. I finally remembered that I should save all the “spent casings” of the bullets. By the time I picked up all I could find it was time to go back to the house and check to see if I could bring the clothes in off of the line and to start myself some dinner. Nothing sounded good so I just ate granola and dried fruit. I know I shouldn’t skimp while I’ve got the food to eat but it’s just not as much fun eating by myself, it’s just more work.

Tomorrow is Sunday and I think I’m going to give biking over to see the Crenshaws a try. Laurabeth seems the type that wouldn’t die of embarrassment if I asked her about bras. And if Missy is still there I know she’ll clue me in. Besides, I’m interested in seeing what they did with the blueberries and whether Rand’s face has healed up.

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