Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter 52

October 17th – Is this not the coolest thing?! I made my own ink! So my handwriting is a little on the rough side since I’m learning to write with what amounts to a quill but if I take my time it isn’t too awful. Rand says that he has some metal nibs in his stuff someplace that belonged to his mother. She did calligraphy for a wedding boutique for a while to bring in some spending money before she got sick. He says if I can wait he’ll find them for me. If he can’t find them then I’ll keep using the owl feather quills. But that also means writing at a desk instead of curled up on the window seat. You have to have the right angle for a quill or dipped pen to work which is kind of frustrating. No wonder all those historical figures carried around those portable desk thingies that wind up in museums.

Cutting the quill was an adventure. I followed the directions in one of my old children’s books about pioneer crafts. It was a lot harder than it looked. Rand wound up having to make a few more cuts using his pen knife. They call them pocket knives these days but pen knives really were used for sharpening quills once upon a time.

The “ink” was actually fun to make; I can see it getting tedious if this goes on for years and years but the alternative isn’t too cool either. The following recipe doesn’t make much ink but if I make too much at a time it will dry out. First you take all of the shell (none of the meat) from about ten pecans and crush the dickens out of them. You don’t need to turn them into powder but you do want them into small pieces. Put the crushed shells in a pan with one cup of water and bring it to a boil and then turn it to simmer and simmer it for one hour. I almost let all the water boil away so when the recipe says simmer they mean a simmer and nothing any higher than that. After an hour most of the water will be gone leaving a very dark liquid. Then you let the remaining liquid sit until it cools.

Next you pour the boiled mess through a small strainer into a non-porous container … like a glass jar. Toss the shells into the compost pile and watch out that you don’t drip any of the liquid on you or you will get a stain … so much for my one work shirt that didn’t have any stains on it. To this very dark liquid add one-half teaspoon of vinegar to “set” the ink and one-half teaspoon of salt to keep it from growing mold. Moldy ink equals major ew! The ink is a pretty brown as you can see.

You are supposed to be able to make ink from berries like this too but I haven’t tried that yet. I just hope they hold up over time. Momma O said that they also made ink from laundry bluing when she was a little girl … I have absolutely no idea what that is though I’ve seen it a couple of times in books; I thought it was supposed to make white stuff whiter so I don’t see how it could make a Prussian blue ink. Weird.

Rand and Brendon were at it most of the day. Planting in the prepared fields in the easement was hard but when they had to break ground in the eighty that is next to us, that was really hard. The wind didn’t help. Rand is a little worried that all the work is for nothing but he also said, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

That’s about how I’m feeling when it comes to canning all the greens we have. I fed a bunch to Rand and Brendon for lunch with corn pone but we can’t eat them as fast as they are coming in, not even if we ate greens morning, noon, and night. Next year I’m definitely going to plant the greens differently. Today I canned the greens in pints. I might regret that later but all I can do is try it this way once. I’ve found it takes about 18 pounds of to make nine pints for the canner.

First you wash the greens, a small amount at a time, to get all the sand, grit, and yuck off of them. Make sure your greens are fresh and don’t have any ucky places on them. Then after you are sure your greens are all clean, cut out the tough stem part that runs up the middle of the leaves. Blanch a pound of greens at a time in steam for three to five minutes. You’ve gotta do this or you might as well not waste your time. Momma had a note out beside the directions and she said, “If you don’t blanche the greens you’ll wind up with something as appetizing as cow cud.” The picture that made in my head was really gross.

You put a half teaspoon of salt in each jar then carefully put in the blanched greens loosely packed; about two pounds per pint jar. Next you take fresh boiling water (I used a tea kettle since the coffee pot was full of coffee) and pour it into the jar over the greens leaving one inch of headspace. From there it is the same as pressure canning for any veggie – eleven pounds of pressure for seventy minutes (pints) or for ninety minutes (quarts). I made a canner full for each type of green – collards, mustard, and kale. I was going to give some to Brendon but he says they have plenty of collards and mustard greens. I should have known with Alicia and Laurabeth running the garden.

When we were sitting down to lunch I all of a sudden got a horrible case of the giggles. Rand and Brendon were chewing on their greens and not saying much. This picture of all three of us with horns and mooing just sort of took over my brain. I had to get up and leave the table and couldn’t even tell Rand what I was laughing about. Brendon shook his head and said, “Don’t even try man. Alicia and Laurabeth will do that at the house. I never understand what the joke is when they try and explain it and that just makes them start laughing all over again.”

I like mustard greens myself though I’ll admit that eating greens every meal is getting just a little much. You have to eat what is coming out of the garden though. I took a jar of ham chunks that Alicia sent me and dumped them in a pot and fried them up a little bit then I added two bunches of greens that I’d washed and cut the steams out of and cooked them down in the ham and grease until they were wilted. Then I covered the whole mess with fresh water and some salt and pepper and let them cook until they were tender. It gave me time to make the corn pones and finish getting the white beans out of the Dutch oven. It may not be the fanciest meal but it is filling and I think healthy too.

I never was a French fry, potato chip, and candy kind of person. Working at the diner spoiled me … not to mention the zit issues. I bet though some of my friends had a hard time adjusting to a life without a fast food restaurant on every corner, sodas in the frig at home, and an entire aisle of candy bars to choose from at the minimart. Well, assuming any of them are left alive that is.

For dinner we had the leftover beans and greens but instead of cornpone I made tomato fritters. You take two sliced tomatoes, one cup of cornmeal and a half teaspoon of salt. Season the cornmeal with the salt and then use it to bread the tomato slices. Fry these up in butter until the crust is golden brown.

Rand is snoring again tonight so I know he is tired. He fooled around with that radio a bit but this isn’t like just plugging something up and it working. First he is going to have to figure out if the solar panels will run the radio, if they won’t then I guess it is a done deal. If they will then we need to figure out an antenna that isn’t too obvious. He says he doesn’t want to transmit so much as he wants to listen to what people are saying.

The thermometer says 45 degrees. Brrrr. I need to find me some warm jammies. I’m particular about my jammies and after the last set got ruined I’ve been sleeping in one of Rand’s over sized t-shirts. That is not going to cut it if it gets any colder.


October 18th – I’ve got sixty pounds of pecans in burlap bags down in the summer kitchen. Knowing that I’ve got about three months to get those things all cracked and canned makes me feel cross-eyed. Rand didn’t just find one pecan tree, he found a small grove of them. We had to fight the squirrels for the nuts but we finally got our share. It took us the better part of the morning but we did it.

I also had to watch Rand climb around in the trees like a monkey, jumping up and down on some of the bigger limbs so that the nuts would fall to the ground. I made the mistake of standing underneath a tree he did that to … falling pecans hurt. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was cold and windy when we woke up and Rand laughed when he came back inside and stuck his cold hands up my shirt. He’s lucky I didn’t pour his coffee down the drain in retaliation. He likes the jacket that I made him for his birthday. It seems even bigger on him now than it did then but he says it gives him shoulder room. It never did get above sixty degrees today. Rand said it was the earliest cold spell like that he could remember.

We took the mules and the little wagon, a couple of long poles, and some tarps with us and then cut across two fenced eighties. We weren’t all that far from the property where the chickens came from. When we got there we could see that one tree had already been completely stripped so we knew we didn’t have long. We laid the tarps under the trees and then I knocked some pecans off the lower branches with the poles but all that did was tell the squirrels it was smorgasbord time. That’s when Rand decided to make like a monkey. The nuts literally rained down after that.

He shimmied back down the tree and we scooped the nuts up off the tarps and tossed them in the back of the wagon. Rand got so irritated with the squirrels coming from all over that he got his rifle and got a dozen without a problem while I finished putting the last of the nuts in the wagon and covering them with a tarp. Fraidy has kept the squirrel population down around our place and now Woofer gets a share with her so they take out twice as many as she used to do alone. Other places you go you are beating those nasty little tree rats off with a stick. People are even having them chew into their soffits and get into their attics. Once the hole is there then bats and other varmints can make their way in and you have a real problem, especially considering there are no more professional exterminators around or poisons to be had.

When we got back Rand cleaned all of the squirrels – well, almost all of them – while I cleaned up all the debris from the pecans and then put the nuts in burlap bags. When we were finished he moved the burlap bags into the kitchen for me and I started the squirrels boiling. When they were tender I pulled all the meat off the bones and then after that it was just like making chicken and dumplings only I made squirrel dumplings.

But Woofer is in the doghouse. He snatched two of the squirrels from Rand’s pile before he could get them all cleaned. What is worse I had just gone into the garden to check to see if I needed to pick anything that was ripe. Rand was chasing Woofer around the house and he shot straight at me for protection … and in the process broke the main stem of two of my brandywine tomato vines. Both was just full of tomatoes too … they were still green but I just know they would have made. I could have cried … after I skinned me a dog for winter booties.

If both of us hadn’t been so mad it probably would have been funny … could have been on one of those television shows that used to come on about funniest home videos or something. Woofer is fast and he thought it was a game. I was squealing at Rand to get him out of the garden and Rand hollering, “I’m trying!” and just missing as Woofer took off in another direction.

Woofer spent the rest of the afternoon on a rope tied to a tree in the yard. I could swear that Fraidy came by a few times to laugh at him. He’s still nothing but a big puppy and he thought he was playing but we can’t let this kind of thing happen again. You could see where Woofer was crying because he was so sad. Rand didn’t have the heart to leave him tied up after dinner but it took a while for Woofer to get his normal goofy attitude back. He stayed close to Rand the rest of the night. In fact they’re both snoring on the bed while I write this.

Now I have the green tomatoes sitting on the counters downstairs too. I know I’ve got some recipes for green tomatoes in Momma’s files so guess what I’ll be doing tomorrow?


October 19th – Rand tested the pecans and he says they need to dry out a little before I start cracking them. Thank goodness! I’ve got enough on my plate. We put the nuts in smaller bags and they are hanging from the clothes line in the summer kitchen to dry a little more.

It got down to thirty five degrees last night and I was sure I was going to wake up to a ruined garden but no sign of it so far except for one limp bunch of Kale and that could have been because of Woofer. Rand thinks it is warming up since it made it to seventy degrees today. I’m glad; I’m not ready for it to get cold yet. Brrrr!

Rand dug holes and set fence posts until lunch. While he was doing that I did what I could to save the green tomatoes. First I started by making green tomato mincemeat. It used a lot of sugar (three pounds of white and one pound of brown to two gallons of green tomatoes) so I doubt I’ll be making any more but what I made tasted pretty good; but it also took two pounds of raisins and a bunch of spices. Definitely going to have to cut back on the “expensive” recipes.

I also made five pints of green tomato pickles. That finished up all but a couple of tomatoes that I breaded and fried for fried green tomatoes to go with lunch.

Mr. Henderson and Mitch Peters showed up as I was clearing the table but there was enough coffee and the squash pie I made wasn’t refused by either man. They came by to give a heads up that they’d be delivering the rest of the fence posts and barbed wire later in the afternoon. They also came to tell us that they were going to be increasing their patrols and if we didn’t mind they might occasionally set up a “camp” on the opposite side of CR49 from our main gate for resupply and or for rendezvous between patrol groups.

What were we supposed to say? Rand said one benefit is that when they do set up there our gate would be less vulnerable but we’d possibly lose some of our privacy. In a community as small as Live Oak is becoming however there isn’t that much privacy to be had once you step off your property anyway.

After Mr. Henderson and Mitch left Rand said, “Not what I was looking for but it will serve a purpose for now so long as Henderson and Mitch are in control.”

“Are you sure? I don’t know, it gives me the heebies that we might be being watched.”

“Honey, we already are,” he laughed.

“What?!”

“Sugar, we’re being watched by just about everyone. There are a few that would be happy to see us fail so they can have a sense of what they consider justice in their world. More want us to succeed because it will mean that their kids can make it too. Most of everyone left is just … well … there isn’t exactly much to take their mind off their own lives so they talk about others’. And it isn’t just the women doing it. I’ve gotten more ribbing because you aren’t barefoot and pregnant yet.”

“Oh, now hold on … “

“Don’t get bent out of shape. Mostly they are just kidding around.”

“I don’t care if they are. That’s none of their doggone business!”

“I know. I know … come on, settle down. I thought you would think it was funny.”

“Well I don’t. It’s bad enough that I can’t make up my own mind if it is a good thing or not. I sure don’t want other people talking about it.

“Well … you know, you could have said something to me. Is this why you haven’t started unpacking the room where we stuck the baby bed? Does it bother you that much? Are you … do you think you might be?”

“Oh Rand,” I said not wanting to hurt his feelings. “No, I’m not, and you know it isn’t because … you know … and saying it bothers me exactly isn't the right word. It is just one more thing that people are trying to rush us about. We had to rush into getting married … which I don’t regret so smooth out the wrinkle between your eyebrows … then it turns out that we really didn’t need to because the government types were rushing things on their end themselves and have now called that plan off. We haven’t even been married three months yet; and I like having time for just the two of us. Kids change all of that and from what I’ve seen babies are lots of work! I saw what happened to the girls at school that got pregnant young. It was fun while they were pregnant, they got all this attention and it felt good, but when the baby arrived it turned into a completely different picture. And all this work we have to do to try and get stable? If I get pregnant I’ll have to cut back on lifting and climbing and stuff like that and … “

“I don’t want you lifting and climbing and …”

“Rand, you know what I mean. It was such a pain to get any work done when my back was cut. I had to wait for you to do everything. When Alicia was over here I did all the lifting because she is starting to show. And then, what about that night with the raiders?! If I had been pregnant I wouldn’t have been able to … “

“You shouldn’t have to start with …

“Rand! Stop it. You know exactly what I mean so stop turning it around on me. There are just so many things going on in the world and the idea of trying to have a baby and then raising that baby into someone healthy and good just … just … I don’t know if it is the right thing to do.”

“You don’t want kids?”

“That’s not what I’m saying. I do, I just don’t know if I want them right now.”

“Then what are you worrying about? We’re counting days and being careful.”

“Because … because … I don’t know … part of me does want to … in a way … but I don’t know if it is for the right reason or just because … oh I don’t know.”

“Oh Hon,” and he hugged me. “Look, I think we’re just going to have to take things as they come. There are days that I feel so old and tired I can barely string two words together. The idea of you being pregnant right now scares me spitless. If it happens I’ll deal with and be happy about it too but if you want to know the truth, it’s not hurting my feelings any that we are waiting.”

Then I knew it was now or never. I hadn’t even put everything together about how I’d been feeling until the last couple of days and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“Rand, the way I’m feeling isn’t just about having a baby.” I could seem him get serious and just a little worried. “I’m scared. Something feels like it is brewing. I can’t explain it. All I can say is that is my brain is starting to do the math and it doesn’t like the sum.”

We sat down in the porch swing and Rand put his arm around me while I continued. “Why would they redeploy Ram’s unit like that just days after they told them to dig in for the winter? Why would he take such a big a risk to leave you a radio like that? Why is Mr. Henderson suddenly stepping up patrols? Something just … it just feels … “

I leaned into him and then continued, “Rand I’m not crazy. Something told me I needed to get out of Tampa and get up here. It was one the best things I’ve ever done with my life I think. Something told me that I could trust you … right from the start you were different and I’ve never regretted it for a second. And right now … right now something is telling me to hurry, to build our den with thick walls and to lay in everything we can because something is coming. I don’t know what it is but that is the way I feel.”

Rand just held me. I thought maybe he thought that I was crazy after all but then he said, “My dad was a man that worked hard his whole life Kiri; fifty to seventy hours a week every week for years on end. He was raised hard and had to grow up fast. He could be cranky and cynical. His motto was believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. He didn’t always have politically correct things to say when it came to people but one of the few things he believed in that he couldn’t see with his own eyes was women’s intuition. It was a joke but was also a serious thing between my parents. Sometimes Mom would just get a feeling about something and that’s all Dad needed to know. She wasn’t even having any symptoms but she told my dad that she knew she was sick. He took her to three different doctors before they found one that would listen to them. Mom was dead less than a year later and dad soon after that. Aunt Rachel used to help Uncle George at the auctions, she had a sixth sense when it came to buyers and sellers or whether a breeding pair were going to work or not and it wasn’t always the way everyone else thought. Nine times out of ten she was right. If your feelings are telling you that something is coming … we’ll go with that. You still have that list of stuff you were making? Good. Make a copy of it and I’ll give it to Missy and have her be on the lookout for it at the Trade-In Shack.”

“Oh Rand, thank you for not thinking I’m losing my mind. I keep wondering if I’m losing it like poor Mrs. Winston. And what’s The Trade-In Shack?”

“The last thing you are is anything like Mrs. Winston … and the last thing that woman is getting from me is pity and I don’t want you wasting any on her either. She brought a lot of her problems down on herself and now she … aw, forget it. Just don’t get drawn in. The Winstons are … they’ll suck everything you have to give right out of you. As for the Trade-In Shack … that’s what everyone is calling the house that Missy and Bill are using to organize all of that stuff that Ram’s unit tried to give out to the community. Missy is a lot better at that sort of thing than she is at gardening and raising animals so she and Bill have worked it out with the others. Bill works on security and manual labor, Missy organizes and runs the Shack which brings in stuff for the families on their road and Uncle George keeps a place for them at his table. It works out.”

“And Missy will help us get stuff on that list?”

“Yeah. We’ll need to be ready to follow the rules like everyone else of bringing in trade for any items that we withdraw but we’ll figure that out. We’ve got enough dried apples that we could probably have anything we want right now. But you just keep drying them … don’t waste jars on them unless there is something you want to keep for us. Actually speaking of jars and lids, one of the things that Brendon told me was he and Alicia went back to get the last of the stuff from her old place and in the back end of her dad’s old delivery van were boxes of what they thought was junk … turned out to be mason jars full of nuts, bolts, nails, paperclips, and stuff like that. Her dad was a hoarder. There were also a couple of cases of rings and lids … unused ones. Alicia has looked at the jars and most of them look sound. As soon as they get them cleaned out the family is going to split them in thirds … they’ll get two-thirds and we’ll get a third.”

“But … “

“Don’t worry about it Babe. It all works out in the end. They’ve been getting fruit from us. We are growing feed for the animals. We’ll trade work come butchering weather. Kiri … come on girl … don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. You didn’t see any of them turning down the bushels of fruit you’ve been sending their way.”

“I guess. You really don’t think I’m being … hysterical or anything?”

“Do you feel hysterical? Do you feel like you are over reacting?”

“No. No I don’t.”

“Then that is what we’ll go with. And if nothing happens then we’ll still be better off than we would have been otherwise. It’s a win-win situation for us.”

I sure hope he is right.

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