New journal article published!

My article, Cacti Conundrums, is in the current issue of the Cactus and Succulent Journal, Vol. 89, number 6. This is a popular article about finding cactus species on my land north of Fort Collins, Colorado.


 

“Free” Food

 

It’s late summer and my garden is in high gear with green beans and zucchinis multiplying at light speed. So too are the wild fruit-bearing plants on our 35-acre paradise. Last year I discovered that chokecherries, golden currants, and wax currants growing on our land here in northern Colorado. I’m the gatherer in my marriage, so I gathered loads of berries and made my first-ever jam (just not a jam person). It didn’t jell properly, but it was proclaimed delicious. Even I tried it on waffles and loved it.

SNOW!
Wax currant blossoms.
Golden currant blossoms.

This spring, I anxiously watched the buds swell on currant bushes and chokecherry trees. Then, in early May – disaster! A late, heavy snow crushed bushes, froze flowers, and kept bees in their hives, resulting in few flowers and fewer pollinated. However, nature is resilient and I discovered pockets of currants and chokecherries that survived the rigors of our spring and the drought of mid-summer to produce enough berries for a small batch of jam.

Chokecherry flowers.

I picked all the ripe and nearly-ripe berries I could find. Songbirds warbled around me protesting my thievery, but I ignored them. Don’t worry, I left them some, just seemed the right thing to do. I picked three different batches and refrigerated them until the weekend. When I’m picking berries, I imagine how it must have been to be a pioneer or a Native American gathering food and preserving it for the winter ahead. I wonder if children had contests to pick the most or the biggest berries. I sometimes wonder if Laura and Mary Ingalls raced to see who could fill their pails the fastest. Have to do something to occupy your time.

Wax currant berry.

I used the recipe I found last year and started the jam-making process.

http://highaltitudegardening.blogspot.com/2006/08/chokecherry-jam-recipe.html

Remember to stir, stir, stir. Cherries and sugar can get pretty sticky and may burn to the sides of your pot.

Golden currant fruit.
Chokecherries.

Add 1 cup of water to every four cups of cherries.

Simmer over low heat until fruit is very tender.

Use a large spoon to press the chokecherry pulp through a sieve. (Three cups of pulp make about 3 half pints of jam.)

Add an equal amount of sugar to match the amount of chokecherry pulp.

Put sugar/chokecherry mixture back on the stove and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Cook to a temperature of 9° (F) higher than the boiling point of water. *According to Aunt Lillian, this temperature check will deliver a rich flavor and thick consistency.

Pour into hot, sterile jam jars to approximately 3/4 full.

Seal and process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes.

Give the jam 24 hours to slowly cool.

Simmered fruit pulp to be mashed through a colander.
Jam with pectin simmering in pan.

I gathered about 6 cups of chokecherries and currants combined. To this recipe, I added about a ½ of frozen store-bought slice peaches, because they were getting freezer burn and needed to be used. I also used classic pectin to help jell the jam, following the package directions.

After an afternoon of washing, simmering, smashing through a sieve, cooking with the pectin added, sterilizing 4-ounce jam jars, lids, and rings, filling the jars, adding lids and rings, and boiling for 15 minutes in a water bath to seal the jars, I was exhausted. I produced 9, 4-ounce jars of jam and an 8-ounce plastic container for my husband. The classic pectin worked perfectly and the jam is wonderful. It was also a boatload of work for a small amount of jam.

Nearly finished!

Gathering wild berries might seem like free food, but there is a high cost in time and energy. I don’t regret the afternoon spent reviving ancient food preservation skills and inhaling the aromas of wildness and sugar bubbling on the stove. Last Christmas, I handed out nearly two dozen tiny jars as gifts. This year, my family and friends will have to be very, very good to wrest these tiny gems from my rosy-stained fingers!

Okapis – draft illustrations for my first picture book.

I feel like someone’s watching me.
Something bright flashed in the woods.
An eyelid scrub is so refreshing!
The leaves are so-o high!
Got ’em!
Still as a stone.
Washing my ears.
Catching raindrops.

My first picture books follow the adventures of a young okapi. If you don’t know, the okapi is a relative of the giraffe that lives in the rainforests of the Congo in Africa. They have a head similar to a horse, cloven hooves, zebra stripes on their legs, and a long, prehensile tongue that they use to grab leaves. Their tongue is nearly 18 inches long and they frequently lick their eyelids and ears as part of their grooming.

Okapis are secretive and shy. They are found together only when they mate and when a female has a calf.

Their only natural predators are leopards and humans. Habitat loss has reduced their wild population size to 10,000-40,000 and they are classified as endangered.

I decided to create illustrations of some of the events in my first book and post them here.

Someone Has To Finish Last

 

Vail Invitational 2017 – Adult Silver Free Skate

Yes, I love to figure skate, but who wants to finish last? Not me, not anyone. However, when you compete, someone is going to come in last. Yesterday, it was I. Damn! I knew I didn’t skate my best; I fumbled an important (in terms of the competition) jump combination and faked my way through part of my footwork. I finished strong with a decent salchow-loop jump combination and final sit spin, but overall it was not good enough.

I could make excuses – I didn’t sleep well because of the altitude (Vail is at 8,200 feet elevation); the ice was soft and therefore I was slow. All true. I could blame my coach, but she didn’t skate – I did. I could complain about the judges’ scoring, but they judge what they see. I could pick apart the other competitors’ performances, but that would be unkind and untrue. They skated beautifully.

Finishing last sucks. As my daughter said, “uber sucks.” However, she helped me get some perspective when she wondered how many 60-year-olds are competitive adult figure skaters? Not many. How many 60-year-olds are competitive athletes?

Yesterday, long after I’d skated, a woman asked me how it went. I said, “I came in last.”

“But did you have fun?” she asked.

“Yes, but it still stings,” I answered.

“It’s just a number,” she went on. “When Shelby (Lyons) was a little girl, she came in last all the time. She was so short she couldn’t read the score sheets, so we just told her the number, 4, 9, whatever.”

I did not realize I was talking to Shelby Lyons’ mother. Shelby, a wonderful coach at our rink, is a retired U.S. national medalist in both singles and pairs. She was the U.S. junior women’s national champion in 1996. Wow.

I came. I competed. I didn’t fall on my rump. Shelby and her mom said I skated well. That makes me feel better. My husband, my friends, and my coach are proud of me. That makes me smile. My husband said I’m beautiful (not a make-up wearer usually and had a new lipstick for the competition), but he’s funny that way. He loves me just the way I am.

My friends skated well, maybe even a couple personal bests. Hugs and high fives all around. I finished the day with delicious food and great conversation with friends, then a well-needed soak in the condo’s hot tub.

So, how did I do? I skated well and finished seventh.

For the Love of It

 

Practice, practice, practice . . .

Amateur – Doing something for the love of it, generally considered unpaid.

April 2017 – third place

I am an amateur, competitive, adult figure skater. I skate because I love to skate. I take skating tests and compete because of the challenge. The challenge to push my 60-year-old body to jump, spin, and glide on a sheet of very cold, very hard ice. I have skated for over 40 years. I have committed untallied dollars in my pursuit of this sport. Most days, I feel it is a small price for the sheer joy of accomplishing a centered spin, a jump landed on one foot (the correct one), and remembering a difficult footwork sequence.

I have friends filled with the same joy and we share the training challenges together. We have husbands, friends, and family that embrace our passion and love us for engaging in this sport. We have others that will never understand us – at all. They might say, “Why? Do you do this for a shiny medal or a colored ribbon?” They try to relate a love, a passion in professional or paid terms.

I am an amateur skater, but I am far from amateurish. I am far from unpaid. I am seriously committed to the joy. I’m paid with the exuberance I feel when I skate well. Paid with high-fives with friends and cheers while I compete. Paid with understanding help when practices don’t go as well as I planned in my mind. And yes, there are shiny medals and sparkly dresses. I admit that I’m part magpie and I do like the shiny rewards.

In April 2015, I competed in my first U.S. Adult National Championship event. I was skilled (or lucky, depending on how I choose to look at it on any given day) enough to win a bronze and silver medal. When I stepped up on the podium and the bronze medal placed over my head, a man in the crowd taking photos said, “You are a national medalist and no one can ever take that away from you.” Chills ran up my spine. All that love and joy.

I am competing this weekend (July 15, 2017) in Vail, Colorado. There are a remarkable seven competitors in my free skate event. That’s unusual for a local competition. I’m competing for the joy and freedom I feel when I step on the ice. Wish me (and my friends) luck!

Cactus article accepted!

I just submitted a popular article to the Cactus and Succulent Journal and it’s been accepted for publication! Cacti Conundrums should be out in the September-October issue. I discuss my growing obsession with the small, round cactus species I’ve found on our property in northern Colorado.

Here’s an excerpt:

“When I took a break from unloading the U-Haul, I sat down on the grass along our gravel driveway. I glanced down and noticed a small, cylindrical cactus by my left hand. “Cool, columnar cactus,” I thought. “I wonder what kind they are?” I had no time then to figure out what it was, plus my plant keys were in a moving box and the computer wasn’t hooked up. I sighed and returned to lugging furniture from the U-Haul.”

Our home in the foothills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pincushion cactus (Escobaria vivipara)
Nylon hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus).
Mountain ball cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii).

 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Update!

Hi Everyone! I felt that Mother’s Day was the perfect day to update you on my tomato DIY. My plants have grown and Nancy has given plenty away to her friends. We decided today was the day to transplant some into their big pots.

Look how tall my tomatoes have grown. They’re about 10 inches tall.

 

 

 

Nancy and I chose these two pots to be the ones we transplant today. I think they’re perfect!

 

Nancy peeled back the peat pot sides and settled the plants into the larger clay pot. Then she added potting soil around them and packed down the new soil. After that, we gave them a big drink of water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After we watered them, Nancy carefully pushed the tomato cages into the clay pots. The cages support the plants as they grow. They support the tomatoes when they grow too. I can hardly wait!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, we keep them watered, wait for them to bloom, and watch them grow some yummy tomatoes!

Dollie’s Tomato DIY – update 4/9/2017

Wow! The experiment worked, tomato seedlings everywhere!

My tomato slices sprouted a billion seedlings!
What am I going to do with all these babies?
The seedlings are jammed together.
Nancy helped me separate the seedlings into little peat pots.
Now, they need to grow big, so I can pot a few in large pots for the deck and give some away to friends.
Unfortunately, I had too many seedlings! Next time, I’ll slice the tomato slices much thinner!

Dollie’s Tomato DIY Update 03/16/2017

Hi everyone! Remember on March 1, I posted about my experiment to grow tomatoes from tomato slices? Well, I’m excited to report that – it works!

I planted the slices just like the video directed and then I went on vacation to the Grand Canyon. I left my pots with plastic covers over them to keep the soil moist and warm. When I came home and peeked under the plastic, there were a few seedlings popping up! Now there are bunches. When they grow a bit, I’ll have to thin them to just three plants in each pot. I’m keeping my hooves crossed that I keep doing things right! Has anyone else tried this yet? Let me know, please!

The plastic bags I used to make plastic tents for my tomato seeds. They kept the soil moist and warm.
Here I am checking on my experiment. Can you see the little seedlings?
This picture was taken yesterday, March 16, 2017, just over two weeks after I planted the tomato slices. Note to self – next time plant less slices or thinner slices!
This is a second pot. Tons of seedlings! I’ll have to share with friends who like tomatoes as much as I do! Yum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out and about without Scout 03/05/2017

Scout, my young American Brittany and walking companion, had better things to do today, so I walked the property alone. So sad, but look what I found! Half of a worn out, rusty horseshoe. Pretty cool. The horses were interested in what I was looking at and came over to inspect. They’re glad they don’t have to wear shoes.

Yazzie, my husband’s Rocky Mountain Horse mare.
Quincy, my paint gelding.