Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Yup, you were in Texas."

Erin was here in Wyoming visiting her folks while we were down visiting her state, Texas. We met the night we got home and she asked, "Well what did you think of Texas?"

I could not tell a lie and replied,"Everything either scratches or bites."

She laughed and said, "Yup, you were in Texas."

I wasn't exaggerating. We only got off the road four times and everything we encountered encouraged us to stay on the highway. For instance look at the thorns on the above plant. Plus this one below.

A...nd on this yucca plant.

I could go on and on and some of you might think I'm exaggerating but according to Erin even a number of the trees have thorns. Not to say that we don't have some of our own prickles like Buffaloberry bushes that look a lot like a Russian Olive tree and produce a red or orange berry that makes a wonderful jelly. Or our prickly wild rose bushes and the cockleburrs but in comparison to Texas, our variety of pokey vegetation is few and it isn't wide spread.

Their cactus alone outnumbers ours ten to one and I'm not just talking size. Wear a good thick soled boot and you can tromp right on over ours. Wouldn't want to try that with theirs. Some of them are piled into tall mounds looking to be waist high.

Their pricklies were just unpleasant but what really weirded me out was that of the three times we left the highway to pick prickly pear cactus fruit, we encountered snake skins at two of the three sites of at least four feet in length.

Once again, Erin confirmed that West Texas has a dense population of them. Obviously!

But, it wasn't until we had crossed into northern New Mexico that I had the fright of my life. I got out of the car to take some pictures of the beautiful landscape east of Raton. With each step I took, I scoured the ground for snakes. When I was about halfway to the fence, I stopped and fiddled with the camera trying to set it. It wasn't cooperating. Once in a while I'd look up at the buck Pronghorn Antelope that stood staring at me. I often have that effect on them.

Something caused me to look at my feet. Six inches from my bare shins poised a rattlesnake. His viper shaped head was reared back ready to strike with the front section of his body forming an S curve. My brain went into hyper drive. I thought of throwing the camera at him but I wasn't coming back for it and I just might miss in my panicked state. My second thought was that he must be calculating the strike range of six to eight inches as that was about how much of his body was raised off the ground. Just maybe, I could outdistance him before he struck. There was no way I was going to be able to hold my ground. I made a mighty jump, running for the car with my feet high stepping the whole way.

My husband looked up from fiddling with the GPS and saw the terror on my face and the speed I was descending upon the car and figured I'd been bit. Normally, I consider myself fairly calm around the slithering nasties. The week before our trip, I'd almost stepped on a large chocolate brown patterned bull snake stretched out in the tall weeds and a quick side step was my only reaction. But at this moment, I felt shear terror.

When I reached the car, I slammed the door shut, first of all on my right leg, and furiously shouted, "Crap! He didn't even rattle." Even more than scared, I was mad! The snake hadn't played the game fairly. He was going to strike without warning. My husband meanwhile was surveying my legs for fang marks thinking he'd have to put the pedal to the metal so to speak and high tail it for the hospital. It had been close - too close and though I had not been physically injured, mentally I was pretty shook up.

We joke all the way to Raton that I might need psychiatric care and you can bet I didn't leave the car until the motel parking lot. The scenery was still pretty though and I snapped a few more pictures while hanging out the car window. Unknown to me, Kirk snapped one of me also.

That night, I only slept a couple hours for when I'd fall asleep, the snake would strike and I'd jerk awake. After the second time, I stayed up and read. Better to immerse myself into a book and be transported to a small town in Ireland at Christmas time, than to experience the shock of a rattlesnake striking again and again.

I'm still shaking days later and sticks gets a thorough scanning, just in case they aren't what they at first appear to be. Spiders aren't faring to well either as I'm stomping on them. I had just finished taking my high powered penicillin for a Hobo spider bite just before the snake incidence. The spider bite left me with seven weeks of headaches, nausea, and blistering oozing sores. I'd had enough and had gone to the clinic for medicine just before our trip. So though I'm usually much kinder to the slithering crawling creatures. Right now, they're on my hit list all but Daddy Long Leg spiders as they are the only predator to the Hobo spider. Sprays are ineffective. So I thank the Lord numerous times a day for sparing me from the rattler and for how easy I got off with the Hobo spider bite.

(50% of Hobo spider bites are dry meaning no venom is extracted.) (20 to 25% of rattlesnake bites are dry; 30% mild amount of venom extracted; 40% full dose extracted.)

P.S. The Hobo spider bite flared up again this morning and started to weep and a several inch in size Wolf Spider that was lurking by our front door isn't anymore.

Houston Street

You can't go to San Antonio, Texas and not go to the Alamo. Especially for John Wayne fans like ourselves. We were blessed to have a private two hour tour given to a group of us by a gentlemen who plays Jim Bowie and another gentlemen who is the historian for the Alamo. As always when you get it from the horses mouth, as the saying goes, a number of misconceptions dissolve. This chapel at the Alamo was missing the distinguishing capanulate or bell shaped facade at the time of the battle. It had no roof until 1850 when the US military added it along with the capanulate. I looked up the original design for the chapel on the internet and another set of columns would have been placed on top of the existing ones and a bell tower would have been placed on ends of the front side.

At this period of time, permanence drove the design of missions. As the nearby settlement grew, so did the mission and the first wooden structure was torn down and a stucco one built. Then when stone structures were under construction for a third, the uprising with Santa Anna occurred. A half finished church and a skirmish worn compound seems a fitting site for the battle for it wouldn't sit right somehow if the church was completed to its grand state and then half destroyed by the grape shot and cannon balls while being defended by a ragtag volunteer army.

We had gotten up early for a walk and to catch the early morning light reflecting off the stones. As no one was around except two of the guards who work shifts guarding the historic site. I engaged him in conversation. He told us some of the building's history and then entertained us with ghost stories. In fact, at two o'clock that morning he had been walking through the library when the hair on the back of his neck stood up.

It wasn't just the Alamo he said that was haunted but several of the hotels nearby. The old medical arts building built in 1924 across the street has been turned into a hotel, the Emily Morgan and it is claimed that ghosts roam its halls. I don't know if it is suppose to be someone or someones from the time it was a medical building or if the ghosts date back to the Alamo period. One of the walls of the Alamo, if still present, would run through the lobby area.

Another haunted hotel is the Gunter, built in 1909. That is where we were having the knife show and the most recent haunt that he knew about was several weeks ago in the Menger, built in 1859. A woman was sleeping and felt she was being straggle. She woke up, turned on the light, and no one was there so she called the police and they found straggle marks on her neck. Got goose bumps? Me neither but it was interesting talking to him.

Above the front door of the Alamo chapel.

The columns of the Alamo Chapel

This is the Emily Morgan Hotel, once the medical arts building, and after looking it up on the internet, I wished I'd brought my binoculars. There are Terra Cotta gargoyles depicting figures with various ailments, toothache etc. somewhere on the building. I missed that but I won't if I go back with Kirk next year. They may mistake me for a peeping Tom but I'm finding those gargoyles.

Since the building is a triangle, did the building or the street come first?

And here is an abandoned building just a block away and it too is a triangle though much skinnier. Note the Spanish roof and detailed carving around the door. My curiosity is itching to know how they laid out the hallways and rooms in a building with this shape.

I can't tell you what was in the shops on the ground floors on Houston street. I think I spent the whole time with my head thrown back gazing skyward as I studied the sides of the buildings.

Can you blame me. You rarely see this kind of ornate architecture.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Souvenir From Texas

I will begin our tale of our trip to San Antonio, Texas with what we brought home. Not a souvenir from a store but a gift from Texas herself.

Unlike Indian Paintbrush, which is Wyoming's state plant, Texas's state plant, the prickly pear cactus, covers their countryside and when I spied them loaded with jelly supplies, I was determined to bring some home.

How would this Wyomingite have a clue about making prickly pear cactus jelly? A friend who was raised in New Mexico introduced me to making the jelly when she brought some of its fruit home from a trip to see her mom who still lives down there. That was fifteen or better years ago and though I have never seen the seed pod perched on top the plant before, not even in pictures, I recognized it right away.

At first I just wanted some pictures and as I cautiously stooped to take some close ups, the idea of making jelly entered. I figured if I was to take home a real souvenir of Texas, this would definitely be it. Best of all, it could be shared.

I discussed my plans with Kirk. He thought it was a good idea and while I snapped some more shots, he went over and grabbed a hold of the pod with one hand and cut it off with his pocket knife. Some of you guessed it. He spent the next twenty miles digging fine haired thorns, that aren't at first visible, from his hand.

But, first he cut open the pod, scooped out some of the juice, tasted it, and declared it delicious.

In the next town, we bought hot dog tongs preparatory for our trip home. We planned our travel time so we'd stay in Junction the first night and head north early in the morning so as to be in the area where we had seen the cactus lining the fences. As long as we didn't trespass, who would care? The pastures were infested with it. If the local residents wanted any, there was more than enough for everyone.

I held the camera to record the event and the plastic sack, while Kirk twisted off the pods.

When we got home, I picked zucchini, some boat sized, along with the green beans. While I canned fifteen pints of beans, I watered the garden, and hung load after load of washed clothes and bedding on the line. Our daughter, Josie, and her girls had stayed most of the week to take care of the animals. I had to laugh when I found a juice box in the bathroom drawer and coasters lined up between the metal frame and the mattress on the spare bed. Who knows what other treasures I'll find around the house when I clean.

As I'm still unpacking, the jelly making will just have to wait until tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Oh Joy!

Finally, after four years of saving I have a new Ashford spinning wheel, a Joy. My Traditional wheel is a bit wobbly from moving it so much and has to be frequently adjusted. Who knows, it may end up being one of those family heirlooms. It has served me for over twenty years and now will go on to my oldest daughter for her to learn to spin on. Memories of spinning are tied to fifteen years of homeschooling. While the kids did their school work at the kitchen table, I spun. That way, I was right beside them if they needed help yet, I was accomplishing something while I waited for them to ask.

For years, I've longed for a Joy. It is sturdier, folds up, and slips inside a carrying case. Many a time I wanted to bring my spinning wheel along but couldn't because of its bulky size. This wheel arrived just in time for our trip to San Antonio, Texas. It will be our thirtieth anniversary and a second honeymoon. Going in August is a bit insane but we're combining business and pleasure.

The temperatures are guaranteed to be a shock. We're wearing sweatshirts up here in Wyoming It's cold. In fact, one day last week, the high was sixty- two. This week is forecast for the seventies, my favorite temperatures, and here we are trading those for the high nineties. *************************************************************************************

Next to me is the garden cat, he's sleeping in his antique egg crate. Night shifts are pretty hard on him.
A pound of Corriedale wool came with the wheel and as you can see, I've begun converting it to yarn. What am I going to make with it. I haven't the foggiest notion. I know, I know, one should have a project in mind so you can determine the size of yarn to make but I saved up once for this wheel and then had to use the money for other things. It has now been seven years since I first started saving. I'm not waiting any longer to spin with this wheel. One can always ply two, three, or four, threads together to get the thickness of yarn needed.

Of course, I couldn't just buy a wheel even though it came with wool and I have four garbage bags full in the basement and a couple Rubbermaid, none of which is prepared to spin. So, I spurged and bought Merino roving in a smokey brown and Merino and bamboo for socks. The dyes were to quell my guilt feeling at buying more wool when I really didn't need any and to prod me to prepare and dye some of my fine fleeces - Cormo, Targhee, Ramboullet.

And I found a really good deal on a pound and 10 ounces of Merino wool - bits and pieces - on e-bay.

I can't buy any more and I probably won't. It was a moment of insanity. But, this winter will be joyful, I'll be immersed in wool. How bad can that be?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Can't Be Beet

In our opinion, home canned beets can't be beat. If the choice were store canned ones, I'd just have to do without.

We are running low in the food storage room and since they were getting eaten fast, I had to get them canned. So, big or small and ready or not, they were going in jars.

Canning beets isn't too bad a job. You simply boil them until the skins slip off easily and cut them up to fit in the jars. The small ones went in whole. Those are the ones I use to use for pickled beets but they don't seem to get eaten, even though we like them.

Twenty-six pints later, I was done. Not quite as many as I wanted so it's a good thing we have some left from last year. We'll use up our storage this year and have to plant a much larger area next year.

If my suspicions are right it is the chickens who are eating them. Probably cheaper than the food I buy for them at the feed store but I wasn't prepared to feed them beets too. So if chicken in the garden is on your menu for next year be prepared to plant extras and don't forget to throw in a few more pumpkins and tomatoes while your at it. Then again, you could fence off that area for part of the summer growing season.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I'm obsessed with the color yellow!!

Yellow and white were about the only colors I could choose from to photograph this summer seeing as the grasshoppers ate the purples and pinks of my flowers; and the vegetable garden was all I had left (what they didn't eat that is).
Couple that with the fact once again I haven't felt hunky dory this summer and the intense yellow was cheery, bright, and inviting. Early in the mornings, I find myself kissing my husband goodbye and still clad in my pajamas; slipping my shoes on and grabbing my camera. The allure of the garden too strong to resist.
At this hour, Sir Reginald Stewart, our garden cat, is making his final patrol of the yard before his long nap and he joins me as I tip toe through the plants peering in between the leaves to appraise the new blossoms.
For each morning, new squash and pumpkin blooms unfurl and then fade as the day advances.

These early morning strolls were only a divertissement until I brushed aside some leaves to disclose a blossom over ten inches in size. My divertissement became an obsession as more and more appeared in the days to follow.

Suddenly, entering the garden was like being transported to an exotic island, an oasis on the Wyoming plains where the grass is rapidly expiring. The green seeping away into a pale sickly yellow.

The lush view refreshes my soul and as the sun rises, the cool air is still. The streets quiet. The pullets stir. Their hushed, comforting murmurs a reassurance that all is well - at least in this corner of the world.
As the sun' intensify, it's rays stretching across the garden, the bumble bees tucked inside the blossoms rouse. Their days work begins and soon their wearing a dusty coat of pollen. My restless mind forms questions as my eyes follow their flight.

What will they prefer the female or male blossoms?

It was the female. Shielded inside her petals, appendages rose up like the water in a fountain. The bumble bees drank from the base, a pool of nectar.

It wasn't just the squash and pumpkin blossoms that held my gaze but the sun flowers strewn throughout the garden.

Large bold top blossoms crown the plant.

Smaller versions scattering down the stalk as if they were its children.
Some, of their lower blossoms appearing to be only distant cousins.

I almost forgot to mention the muffins. Kirk wasn't impressed with the blackberry ones either. He needs to have his taste buds examined as I tried one today and it was heavenly.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's a Muffin?

Blackberry Muffins
What is a muffin?
Since cake batter baked in muffin tins is cupcakes, then what is quick bread baked in a muffin tin - quick cups? Somehow that doesn't sound right. Yet, what is it then? I doubt I'm the first to do it - to bake quick breads in muffin tins, I mean. Without cable or satellite television and living in a remote area, I haven't heard of anyone else doing it. It doesn't mean thousands aren't.

So, what does make a muffin a muffin? It definitely isn't the pan you bake it in. Maybe, it is the way you mix the ingredients. With muffins they are usually done with the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another and then gently folded together until just moist. Yet, the chocolate cherry muffin recipe from the William and Sonoma cookbook drifts a bit from that theory. Couple the changes I made to their recipe, and I may not be making chocolate cherry muffins at all. It could be a quick bread. Those who know me are snickering. I know, I can't leave a recipe alone. I'd like to think it is because I enjoy leaving my own signature on the dish. But, the truth is most of the time a recipe is altered because I hate to go shopping, so, I improvise with what I have in my pantry.

Why am I bothering about muffins and quick breads, your wondering? My husband takes one with a yogurt each morning for work. Not waffles, crepes or anything else will do. I know, I've tried. A souffle does sneak by once in a while.

So, to stale my own boredom, I search out new recipes. He now takes a variety of quick cups shall we say: lemon blueberry; coconut; chocolate with maraschino cherries; pumpkin; cinnamon struesel swirl; banana chocolate chip; and poppy seed quick bread in a muffin shape. To save time, I make up a couple different batches and freeze them. They last a few weeks and then I make a couple other varieties. With this many, it is several months before Kirk is eating the lemon blueberry ones again. He hasn't complained but I'm bored with the list and have decided to make muffins in muffin tins, a novel idea - for me.


So the night before last, I went to and yesterday made their Date Flecked Orange Muffins - kind of. I didn't have an orange so I substituted one can of Madarin oranges in the fifteen ounce size, drained of course. A...nd, I didn't have chopped pitted dates. I had dried date pieces so I substituted those instead. The recipe has a five star rating - theirs, not mine, for we have yet to judge the results. Since Kirk will have to eat the bulk of them, his vote counts the most.

I want to try several more of their recipes like apple pumpkin and carrot apple. I'm thinking pineapple sound good to add to the carrot apple muffin recipe. What do you think? They'll have to wait since, I've beets to can and Kirk has twelve muffins to eat which includes the blackberry muffins from


One of Kirk's favorites is banana bread muffins, chocked full of miniature chocolate chips. In preparation for these I throw over ripe bananas in the freezer. When I'm ready to make bread, I thaw them and peel off the skin. They are a bit runny and mushy, which is perfect.

The recipe is from a church cookbook. Okay, the original recipe was from a church cookbook. It underwent a dramatic makeover a number of years ago. Partly due to the fact that I use once frozen bananas and the need to mix chocolate with that and ...

Banana Bread
1 cup nuts
4 bananas (thawed)
1 1/2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
3 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening or butter (if using butter, do not melt first)
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon soda

Mix the egg, shortening or butter, sugar, soda, and salt, then add milk, bananas, and when mixed, stir in flour. Then again you may want to do it your way. Bake at 350 until done. (I rarely time anything as I depend on my nose to tell me they're cooked. It only fails me on the third batch of cookies to go into the oven when it becomes confused by the heavily scented air.)

Kirk just called. His comment on the Date Flecked Orange Muffins - "They weren't much." Surprise, for though I had only tasted a corner of one, it was pretty good. Was I mistaken or was this one of those he doesn't like but I do recipes? I tried one. Yum! It was the ginger spice that turned him off. On the other hand our children will adore these muffins as anything with a gingerbread like flavor is a hit with them.

As for Kirk, he hasn't seen the last of this recipe. I'll leave out the ginger next time and um... I'll have to think on this one a while. I wonder if he got past the flavor to notice the lighter texture of the muffin verses the quick breads he usually eats? I'll have to ask because it was a nice change.

What is for sure is that whether it is muffins or quick bread in a muffin shape, they're here to stay. We've used them for hunting, work, early morning trips, and snacks. They are a part of our quick meal plan.

I'll tell you on Friday what the judge had to say about the blackberry muffins.