Swirling Patterns of Blackbirds, Posing, and Other News Fresh From the Farm

Inside: Blackbirds’ annual visit on their way south, a fall photo shoot country style, and the people you meet. 

Swirling patterns of blackbirds. Blackbirds flying south.
Blackbirds singing in the middle of the day. . . (Sorry Paul M.)

Blackbirds’ Annual Visit on Their Way South

Every November, like clockwork, thousands and thousands of blackbirds stop by our farm on their way south. It has always happened this way, large flocks of birds diving, dipping, swirling in flight like a well choreographed dance. It’s remarkable to watch, if you take the time to pay attention. They don’t fly into each other, and rarely do they push or prod, so focused on their feeding task.

Upon observing them, two things come to mind: Paul McCartney singing “Blackbird” and the scripture Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.” Yes, I know, the two make an odd pairing, but songs pop into your head without much warning. Actually, so do scriptures, thankfully. The point of this is that while much in life is chaotic, here is an audacious reminder of God’s goodness, His provision. Those birds take the same pattern every year, landing in just-harvested corn and soybean fields. Kernels of corn and beans that didn’t make it into the combine or spilled off the top of the grain truck offer fine dining to hungry, traveling birds. There is something so simple, yet mysterious in it. Something beautiful in this little migration miracle.

Come March, I’ll be watching for them. This time northern bound.

A Fall Photo Shoot, Country Style

Fall leaves photo.
Obstinate in orange . . . or when your face hurts from smiling.

Take a young woman with camera savvy (Emily), a patient woman carrying equipment (Mom), two dogs (one of them eager), an old stud horse, and me. The mission? Fall photos. After scouting around the farm for the best possible place to shoot, we decided a line of trees in a fence row in the horse pasture would work best. With the sun quickly setting we carefully tiptoed through the grass, avoiding horse piles, and settled on a spot. Honey, Mom’s lab, followed, and Spunk, my cousin’s blue heeler dog ran from his house to see what we were up to. Mooner, the horse, watched from a distance between nibbles. In the remaining light Emily instructed me in how to stand and had me laughing because it helps the smiling. I tend to be a blinker, and I’m not the easiest person to pose, but Emily has a knack for getting good pictures of me when few people can.

The result? Next day I felt tired and sore like I’d been working out at the gym. Why any woman would want to spend long days being photographed is beyond me. But we got some decent photos out of the experience. And I managed to keep my boots clean.

The People You Meet

As we were leaving church Saturday night, someone said hi to Mike and called me Emily. Okay, it was fairly dark in the hallway, and on second glance he said, “You’re not Emily, but you look like her. You must be ‘Mom’.” So Mike introduced me to a guy named Darrel, and in a conversation that lasted maybe two minutes, he’d managed to compliment Mike and me, wish us a happy Thanksgiving, and tell us to have blessed week.

While that might sound like many conversations in many churches across this great nation of ours, what stuck with me was how Darrel’s words made my day so much brighter. Encouraging people are sorely needed in this world, and whether he knew it or not, he inspired me to do that for others. Since then I’ve found myself sowing little seeds of kind words to people I meet.

Kind words. It’s not hard to do, and you might just be the bright spot in someone else’s day. How cool is that?

Blackbirds flying south. Blackbirds in the fall.
View outside my window.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Tell us about it in the comments.

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How to Save Flower Seed

posted in: Simple Garden | 2

Inside: While it might seem like an old-fashioned practice, learning how to save flower seed is not only frugal but sensible. Read on to find out how.

*This post contains affiliate links.

How to save seed. Saving seed. Saving flower seeds. Saving vegetable seeds.
Remember my sunflower field? Only stalk and seed remain. But the birds don’t mind.

With frost behind us, it might seem like garden work is over for the season, yet several chores remain. One of those is saving seed. But first we need to make a couple of distinctions.

Heirloom Versus Hybrid

Heirloom plants are plants that were grown in an earlier era, some dating back hundreds of years, and are open-pollinated. In short, that means you can save the seed and grow these year to year and expect the plants to produce the same traits consistently. The only exception would be if you grew several different heirloom varieties of the same plant in close proximity and they crossed. While you wouldn’t see it in the developing flower, the seeds from that flower might not stay true to type. (For more information on heirloom seeds or to request a catalogue, visit Seed Savers Exchange.)

A hybrid plant is the result of a cross between at least two, sometimes more, unrelated inbred plants, to bring about desired traits, such as disease resistance. Seeds can be saved from these hybrid plants, but the offspring won’t be true to type. Instead those plants will have different characteristics from one or more of the parents. For example, years ago I planted hybrid marigolds with some lovely shades of orange, rust, yellow, and cream. The following year the volunteers came up in the usual yellow and orange shades typically found in plant stands every year.

What to Save?

How to save flower seeds the easy way.
Next year’s zinnia potential.

After watching my flowers grow over the course of several months, I’ve already decided what I want to keep. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not they’re heirloom or hybrid. In fact, I like the little bit of mystery to growing hybrids. Plus, if I want to continue growing these hybrid seeds, if I get consistent results, I can create my own variety. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been going through my containers, emptying out the soil from spent plants, and setting aside the ones I want to clip seeds from, like the coleus, gazanias, marigolds, and zinnias. Before cutting the seed heads off flowers, they need to be bone dry. I cut the stems and put the dried flower head into a baggie and write what it is. Usually I leave the envelope open for the seeds to dry a few weeks longer, just in case. At this point I’m not concerned about the chaff. As often happens, by the time I get back to the seeds in spring, the seeds have fallen away from the chaff, anyway.

Seed Saving in It’s Simplest Form

By far the easiest seed saving I do requires so little attention on my part it’s downright lazy. I don’t collect the flower seed, nor do I store it. I let nature do that. What am I talking about? Self-sowing! Case in point: my favorite flower bed around the log. When I go out to do my end of season garden assessment, I’ll bend the stem of any stray flower back into the bed rather than the yard so the seeds do their job come spring. (Patricia Lanza talks about this in her wonderful book!) If your beds are built up and ready to face next planting season, you can also disperse the seeds yourself. After I add some layers–manure, spent hay, leaves, compost–I will probably sprinkle some of the marigold and zinnia seed over the top of it, though, honestly, it’s really not necessary to go to all that trouble. Some good choices for self-sowing annuals include cosmos, sunflower, sweet alyssum, forget-me-nots, calendula, pansy, and bachelor’s button.

I also have a window box shaped planter with moss roses that reseed themselves every year. I just store the planter until the next year and give the flowers some light fertilizer when they need it.

Go Forth and Save Seed!

So there you have it–the basics of flower seed saving. It’s really quite easy and worth the effort–or no effort, as the case may be. Now instead of mourning the end of your garden season, you can collect seed from your favorite flowers and start dreaming of spring.

Simple ways to save flower seed. | A Rural Girl Writes

Do you save seed from your garden? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Remembering Dad

Inside: Remembering Dad on his birthday.

Remembering Dad
Dad as a teenager on horseback. His caption from the back of photo: “This is a picture of my new horse, saddle, and bridle. And in the background the showhorse barn, ha ha.”

 

I’ve taken to carrying a handkerchief since spring. Because Dad did.

Because it was his.

One day Mom said she had something for me. Something of Dad’s. And that I would understand when I saw it. As we were in the middle of the grocery store, separately shopping, she approached me and pressed something white into my hand. “You’ll understand,” she said and quickly disappeared into another aisle.

I stared down at the white handkerchief, remembering. . .

Whenever you asked Dad what he wanted, whether it was for Christmas, his birthday, or Father’s Day, he’d often say, “I could use some handkerchiefs.” So over the years I’d buy them for him. Sometimes in a masculine plaid print–and as a child I’d even cross-stitched his initials on one–but often I’d simply buy the plain white handkerchiefs. After all, the older he was getting, the harder it was to find them. They were old school, and younger men weren’t carrying them. But I could always seem to find the plain white ones.

He told me a story once about handkerchiefs. Growing up, whenever he was dressed to go to town, right before he’d leave his father would say to him, “Do you have a clean handkerchief?” It was important to my grandfather that his sons didn’t leave the house without one.

Dad became sentimental upon telling it, and I wondered why.

In an age when men showed little to no emotion, “Do you have a handkerchief?” meant, “I love you and care about you.” His father couldn’t say that to him, but he could make sure he had a clean handkerchief.

I’m sure that my grandfather loved him, yet, admittedly, I find it sad he could never tell him that. But carrying a handkerchief reminded Dad of that love. He always carried one.

Which brings me to the type of dad I had (or rather have, just not here with me). He told me he loved me, told my brothers and my mother that he loved them. He loved others as well. He cared deeply for people.

As we draw closer to the end of this year of firsts without Dad–a couple of hard ones ahead of us–some of those qualities of his that I didn’t particularly pay attention to during his life have resonated with me. For one, my dad was creative. He was an inventor. We never called it that, but he had a knack for making something that he needed on the farm, like a water sprinkling system for the cows, loader bucket extensions for hauling round bales, a wood carrier, to name a few.

He was a storyteller, something I wish I would have appreciated more. Thankfully my brother Jeremy has this gift.

Dad was quick to help others. I never paid a lot of attention to this, either, because it was just how he lived his life. But if I ever attempted to make a list of everyone he helped, I’d have pages and pages full of people whose lives he impacted.

He was strong, yet gentle, and I miss that gentle strength.

The comfort I take with me now is knowing these qualities live on. I glimpse traces of his gentleness in all three of my brothers, which also continues in my nephews. I’m proud of the men in my family.

What my dad modeled, I married. Mike is strong and kind and gentle and a good father. Our daughter has shown herself to be like her papa. I think of that summer she was interning in DC when every day she would stop to talk to the homeless man who lived next to where she worked.

Dad’s memory lives on in the one who shared a life with him–my mom. Together they showed us what a lifetime commitment of love and faithfulness looks like.

As for me, I’d like to think I have a bit of my dad in me. At least I’m working on it. I will continue to carry this handkerchief because he did. Because it was his.

Because it represents his legacy of love.

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Surviving Frost, Roasted Bean Mondays, and Other News Fresh From the Farm

Inside: A bright spot to the end of the gardening season, why I love Mondays, and when you’re married to a pirate.

Gazania that survived frost, flowers surviving frost, surviving frost, first frost.
The little gazania that could.

A Bright Spot to the End of the Gardening Season

Our first frost arrived right on schedule last week–October 29, the average first frost date for our area, actually. As a gardener, I’m a little sad, a little relieved. Keeping up with a garden–or not keeping up with your garden and feeling guilty about it–can be stressful. But I am quick to remind myself that unpicked produce does add fertilizer back to the soil, so it’s all good.

And now the sad part. Sigh. No more handfuls of cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden. No pretty flowers right outside my door or beds full of bright, cheerful perennials. It’s a wrap for 2017, folks.

And yet. . . A few stubborn holdouts survive. My little gazania flower (above), plus another container of them. A pot of red cabbage that I planted simply for decorative purposes. (I ran out of room for a couple of plants in the cole crops bed, and they’ve worked beautifully in their new role.) Wire grass, a yearly favorite of mine, still spiraling out of the old ice cream churn turned planter. Calibrachoa, also called “Superbells” (the out of focus foliage pictured behind my gazania). Purple salvia, flowers intact, still hanging on, next to the transplanted mums in one of the flower beds.

While I know it’s only a matter of weeks (or days) and these, too, will get bit by colder temps, I appreciate their hardiness, their not giving up without a fight.

Sometimes a little stubbornness can be a good thing.

Why I Love Mondays

Coffee shop. Best coffeehouse. Best place to go for coffee in Troy.
Best. Coffeehouse. Ever.
Picture from Yelp.

Since January Mom and I started this “for now” tradition–shopping on Mondays followed by coffee at Roasted Bean. (Affectionately known by me as “The Bean.”) I won’t say we’ve spent every Monday this way, but most of them. After all, when you’ve got a van full of melting groceries in 95 degree weather, spending an hour or two in deep conversation whilst sipping coffee doesn’t bode well. (I think we need to invest in a large cooler.)

But the weather is solidly colder, and our attendance at The Bean is back to normal–thank God for small good things! A warm spot, a hot beverage, and good conversation.

But it’s more than that. Mondays in a small town, shopping for groceries or farm supplies or produce, you find friendly people everywhere. Folks out and about for much the same reason. People huddled together talking, happy greetings. Little kindnesses and doors held open and “have a good day” sprinkled around generously.

It is a real blessing to find your place in this world and simply live life. Even on a Monday.

When You’re Married to a Pirate

Sometimes we come to these things later in life. Completely oblivious. You think you know someone.

It all started a few weeks ago when Hubmeister carried in a plastic shopping bag from a clothing store. Without comment, he laid the bag on the bed and went about his usual just-got-home-from-work routine.

I went in to investigate.

A frilly white shirt sleeve spilled out from the bag’s opening. I peeked inside and spotted the rest of said shirt and some black material with metal. A hat with a plume lay beside it.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I’m dressing like a pirate,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if every day one dresses up like a swashbuckling adventurer of the high seas. In landlocked Missouri, of all places.

Upon further probing, I discovered it was for a good cause–entertaining the kiddies at church. Handing out treats.

I asked for pictures, and someone snapped this one.

No pirate sightings since then.

 

Dressed up like pirates, when you're married to a pirate.
Argh! Pirate Mike at the helm.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Tell us about it in the comments.

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