Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Apple a Day

Today Beth and I picked about 9 bushels of apples in just two hours time, with 1 bushel being donated to the local Food Finders organization. These apple trees were on a local farm where the apples were going to go to waste and a friend invited us to pick. We are hoping to turn a good part of these into cider to freeze for use through the fall and winter months. there is nothing as good as homemade unadulterated cider.

The trees were absolutely loaded with apples, with a large variety of types. I sampled quite a few different apples. At one time in our nation's history apples and apple trees actually became despised by "upstanding citizens". The reason was that apples were grown and used primarily to make hard cider whiskey, also known as "applejack". The benevolent Johnny Appleseed we learned about in grade school was actually very fond of hard cider, and made it his mission to plant the old, gnarly apples, not for eating, but rather for the purpose of making hard cider known as applejack. During the 1600 - 1850 years it was the most popular alcoholic drink in America. Even children and Presidents drank it at breakfast and dinner.

What ultimately led to the demise in the popularity of hard cider consumption was the Temperance movement. Because the Temperance movement was religiously based, many of the church going farmers gave up their drinking of apple cider. Many of them even went so far as to chop down the apple trees on their farms.

When Prohibition finally became the law, this marked the death knell for hard cider. Today, very few people in our country have ever tasted hard cider. I remember in high school that my senior agricultural and business class tried to make a batch of hard cider. Each week we would taste test the "nectar of the gods". We forgot about it over a school vacation, and returned to find it had turned to vinegar.

although we are not planning on making hard cider, we hope to turn these bushels into sweet cider, cut apples for pies, and applesauce, along with keeping some in the basement for eating over the next few months.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away indeed. I wonder if the saying "a glass of applejack a day keeps the doctor away" was in vogue 150 years ago?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lost in Time...and Found; John W. Thomas and Turesa Jones Thomas

This is my great grandmother. Her name was Blanche Olive McElfresh. We called her Mimmie; I thought that was her actual name for a long time when I was a little girl.

In 1919, long before I was around Mimmie married the "time study man." His name was Walter Jones Thomas. He wasn't Catholic, and he had been married before. But he was the one.

Blanche and Walter lived with Mimmie's parents in Anderson, Indiana. Everyone seemed to be working at the auto factory in one way or the other. In 1922 Blanche had a son named Wendell who would become my grandfather.

After that the family story becomes cloudy. No one is exactly clear about when Walter left. Some say it was right away. Others say it was years later. My uncle says he has a stack of letters that Walter sent home to Blanche and Wendell as he traveled around the country looking for work during the Depression. The 1930 Census lists my great grandfather as living in a boarding house in Toledo, Ohio. The 1940 Census won't be public until April, 2012 so we have a while left to speculate about what became of Walter after he left Anderson...until his death in Florida in 1960.

Because of Walter's departure from our family, we never knew where he came from or anything about our Thomas family origins. Starting with Blanche and Walter's marriage certificate, I began to unearth the clues that would lead me to discover my great-great grandparents. For years all I had was this picture.

I could see their faces. I knew that Walter had a mother, a father, and what appeared to be two sisters. But their names and where they were from remained a mystery.

Getting the marriage certificate opened the floodgates of knowledge. I learned the names of my great-great grandparents, John W. and Teresa or Turesa Jones Thomas as well as Walter's siblings, Verna (later Cottrell) and Veda (later Woodruff). AND I learned that Walter grew up only a couple of hours away from where I live! After some emails with a very helpful keeper of the Livingston County genealogy website I had reason to believe I might just find the grave site of Turesa Jones Thomas, my Great-great grandmother! And maybe even her mother Elizabeth Rachel too.

We set off on a country drive on a beautiful late summer day to Fairbury, Illinois. I love a drive in the country with Brent, so I was looking forward to the day even if our mission turned up empty I knew we would have a good time no matter what.

We found the Dominy Public Library easily and I realized that my ancestors also used this very library. Goosebumps! The librarian directed us towards reference books that listed everyone interred at the local Graceland Cemetery and told us that obituaries would be listed on the microfilms of the local newspaper. They were all labeled by year in a locked drawer, which she opened for us. I hadn't used a microfilm viewer since college and it took a while to acclimate ourselves to it. Soon we were zooming past funny ads for "formaldehyde on the farm" and other strange things, but once we had it figured out it took almost no time until we found the obituary for John William Thomas, my Great-great grandfather.

"John Thomas passed away on Sunday night February 10, at the home of his daughter, Mrs. B. L. Cottrell, in Peoria, of paralysis. ... Deceased was born in Swausea, So. Wales, January 23, 1846, and came to America with his parents when five years of age, locating in Ohio, and later lived in Danville, Ill., where he grew to manhood. ...Mr. Thomas was a man of sterling qualities, a peaceable citizen, and was greatly loved by all who knew him. He was a devoted husband and father. He was a Methodist by faith and before his health failed was a newspaper pressman for years." --Fairbury, Illinois, Friday February 15, 1918

I couldn't believe it was that easy! I was especially surprised because the census listed him as living in another town at the time of his death. But thankfully his funeral arrangements were in the hometown of his in-laws. I couldn't believe our luck. The cemetery book seemed to indicate that he was even buried in that town. That was more than I expected.

We went to the cemetery to find the grave, hoping that it would lead us to better information for finding obituaries in the microfilm later, but alas no better dates could be found. So plodding forward through the microfilm slowly was all I could do. This eventually led to the discovery of the obituary for Turesa Jones Thomas, my great-great grandmother...

"The deceased was a woman of kind personality, a devoted mother and the kindest of friends and neighbors. She was a member of the Presbyterian church and a regular attendant at its services and Sunday school." --February, 23, 1923

... and with 10 minutes to spare before the library closed, I found the obituary for Turesa's mother (my great-great-great grandmother!) Mrs. Theodore B. Jones, which revealed her maiden name, Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy. I couldn't believe it! I hastily printed the page as well as possible and reeled back the microfilm and replaced the cover so the librarians could go home, happy to have so much more information for future research, and knowing that just a little more time would have given me great-great-great grandfather Theodore Jones' obituary too.

We had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant called Lost in Time. That seemed like a fitting place to eat on a day of discovery of relatives who had been lost in time for so long.

Then we went back to the cemetery. We never did find a marker for Elizabeth and Theodore Jones, Turesa's parents, although they were listed in the book. We wondered if maybe there is no longer a marker? We put flowers on the grave of John and Turesa Thomas and took pictures so we can always remember and they will not be lost in time anymore.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sorg Journey

My Dad's mother's grandfather Ferdinand Sorg came to the US from Germany to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian military force that was consuming the region in his day. He settled for a while in Minnesota with other German immigrants but eventually moved south to Pocahontas, Arkansas where my grandma grew up. Here is a little bit of the story of their journey South...

"We moved to the Ozarks in the fall of 1894. People were typical hill people of that day and looked with suspicion on the 'durn furriners' that moved in from the north and especially so in our case, since we were German Catholics. There were five boys and one girl (myself) of us, two older sisters and one brother were married and did not come with us. The natives must have decided to make us leave. They would lay the rail fences down to let cattle into our crops or pull lower rails out and put rocks or chunks in to let their hogs in on the crops.

Mother raised turkeys and they would shoot them and they burned a field of clover that was giving hay and feed for our cows and of course abundant milk and butter. Mother churned 16 lbs. a week

One day a neighbor from over the hill came to see mother and told her his wife was in labor and asked her to help. She went at once and helped to bring the baby but it was either dead at birth or died right afterward. My father made a little casket for it and it was lined and covered with cloth.

From then on things began to change. The people became friendly and mother was called on quite often to deliver the newborn. She made no charge for her services and it was free to those she served and pay anything they were able. The people were all so poor, that the question of pay was not important. I have no idea how many mother cared for and she became known as Grandma Baur. ...

It was while they were living in the covered wagon near Carthage that Ferdinand and Anna Mary's first child was born March 28, 1889. he was a premature baby weighing about 3 pounds and they named him Herman Joseph. Ferdinand could spread his fingers and hold him on one hand. They laid him on a pillow and his grandmother Bauer wrapped hot bricks in blankets and placed them around him for warmth. And Indian woman came to the wagon, looked at him and told them not to worry; that he was a healthy baby and would live to be a fine man. How right she was! He lived for 82 years!"

And he was my Great Grandfather! (Pictured below, and standing above by that large unidentified crop.)

-An excerpt from the Sorg Family History Compiled by Erma White Sorg 1984

My dad's mother's parents; Joe Sorg and Anna Junkersfeld. Anna's Wedding Dress is made of curtains.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

When it's Hot it's Hot

Everyone has been complaining of just how hot and humid it has been the past month. And, I have to admit that I can't recall such a long string of severly hot temperature indexes (105-110) here in West Lafayette. But, it was not sooo bad that I didn't want to go out and pick some tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, basil, onion, and garlic and make some hot salsa!

I have been making a large batch of this salsa about every three or four days, and then subsisting on it with chips, fajita's, nachos, that we are out of ripe tomatoes for now, we got several from my parents garden to make another batch!

Here is the recipe from probably my favorite cookbook "Simply in Season: A World Community Cookbook" by the same group that published the More-with-Less cookbook. Nearly every recipe we have tried from this little green book tastes awesome.

Fresh Summer Salsa Recipe

6 medium fresh tomatoes diced

1 medium red onion diced

1 large green pepper diced

2-3 hot chili peppers diced (vary based on how hot you want it)

1/4 bunch of cilantro chopped

2-4 cloves garlic minced (2 adds good garlic flavor, 4 if you love the taste of garlic long after)

3 tablespoons fresh basil

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine in bowl and let stand 30 minutes, then serve.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nifty Nettles

I first learned what nettles were in Girl Scouts on a hike. I had walked through them and my legs started to itch. That's why they're called "stinging" nettles. I didn't think much more about the plant until years later when I became interested in nutrition and herbs. I found out that nettles are full of chlorophyll, vitamin C and vitamin A, minerals, including calcium, silicon, and potassium chloride; protein, and dietary fiber. Nettles have been used as a nutritional tonic for many things including anemia and as a dietary source of calcium. They grow in my yard and I have used them on and off over the last several years. I find that I feel more energetic when nettles tea or infusion is part of my daily routine. Nettles rinse is also very nourishing for the hair!

So imagine my surprise when I found that this trusty plant had also been incorporated into a new yarn! Classic Elite Woodland is 65% wool and 35% nettles. The animal fiber and the plant fiber take on the dye differently giving the yarn a rich heathery look that is very appealing! And the combination of both wool and plant fiber together gives the yarn a quality that neither has alone. I very much enjoyed knitting with this yarn and think you would enjoy knitting anything out of this new collection.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pickles Pickles

I planted three hills of bush cucumbers this spring. Even with all the shade from the surrounding trees, cuks seem to do very well here. I was noticing the profusion of yellow flowers on the vines one day in early summer, with just some very very tiny baby cuks starting to grow. We had five days of rain in a row. I decided to check under the leaves and cuks were everywhere...large and small. We've been eating cucumber, tomato, and basil salads, and sweet refrigerator pickles.

Our son Wes requested some *real* dill pickles, so we cut up seven cuks into a gallon jar and added one hot pepper and some dill and garlic from the garden, plus some fancy spices we had in the cupboard. They sit on the counter for 2-3 days to ferment, then into the refrigerator until they are gone. Yum!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nissen Fundoplication - one year later

This is not really a post about homesteading, food, or nature...but it is about health. Exactly one year ago today I was in surgery for a complication that had nearly ruined my overall health. I thought I would post the details here in case someone else might be searching for information and experiences that others have had with the Nissen Fundoplication surgery that physically corrects major hiatal hernias. Mine has been a very positive experience overall. Much of what I found on the internet in my early search for solutions was very negative regarding the surgical procedure. Thus, I'm going to offer a detailed look in this post of my own experience hoping it may help someone out there with a serious GERD issue.

Back in the late 1990's I began having a lot of trouble with bronchitis conditions that frequently recurred. Doctors and clinics I would visit would always ask me if I was a smoker - I never have smoked. Often my energy level was very low and sometimes I felt like I was dying. I was finally diagnosed with GERD or Reflux disease - but encouraged to try medicine and other lifestyle adjustments. Let me say when the problem started I was not overweight. I was probably 10 pounds or so overweight midway through the disease...and certainly for folks that are overweight losing the weight may indeed help you or even could correct your problem. Well, since the weight was not the major issue for me I underwent just about every test, diet, special pillows, bed-raising, and medicine I could find of over the past ten years. Nothing really worked...until I started taking Prilosec.

I needed heavy doses of Prilosec, however, and in the beginning it helped. Gradually however after three years the doses were not helping as much, and I was starting to have increasing nerve and bone pain throughout my arms, hands, and toes. It became very painful and my intuition told me it was a result of the Prilosec. About that time studies were being published in medical journals demonstrating these same type of side effects. My dental health had deteriorated greatly and I had many dental problems all of a sudden. I was seldom able to sleep very much during the night, often waking not able to breath with horrible burning in my chest and throat. I was trying several alternative health therapy approaches - but unfortunately these were of no help.

Finally, I threw in the towel and started to consult with surgeons on what might be done. After several nasty exploratory tests the diagnosis was that I had a hiatal hernia at the stomach opening allowing highly acidic juices to flow upward burning the lining of my esophagus constantly. Nothing short of surgery would correct it. The doctors said it was likely I would end up with cancer if nothing was done. They recommended the laproscopic nissen fundoplication procedure that would physically correct the hernia and restructure the stomach opening such that it would operate as close to normal as possible. during the initial consultations I had misread the doctor in thinking he had said I would not be able to eat meat or bread forever after the surgery. Well, that gave me great pause, but I felt this condition would kill me so was willing to do it. But, later I learned he meant no bread or red meat for the first six - eight weeks. That was a relief!

I had to have a preliminary surgery test that was called a pressure test. This to me was more difficult than the surgery itself, but was necessary for the surgeon to plan the exact level of correction. The surgery required five small incisions in my belly. I spent one night in the hospital and was ready to leave at noon the next day. Elizabeth helped me through it all and slept the night on two chairs pushed together and read to me. I couldn't have gotten through it without her. Thank you, Honey.

My diet was liquid for several days, and then proceeded to introduce very mild foods. It took about three weeks before I began to eat "normal" food, and two months before I was going along pretty normally again. I had to learn to chew food very well and also not to drink too fast. The new stomach opening could only handle so much at a time. And if I went to fast the pain was there to slow me down. I ended up losing about 15 pounds, but in the year since I've gained back some of that weight.

One other side effect post-surgery is that people normally cannot burp or vomit. However, my surgeon was incredibly knowledgeable and adept with this type of surgery. He even had it performed on himself. Turns out he restructured the opening just right...maybe just a bit loose. So, I seem to be able to burp fine....which I can tell you it is very painful not to be able to do so. and this occured early on after the surgery. BeanO and Gas-X were my friends.

A year after the surgery, I only have a very slight indigestion feeling and this occurs only once or twice a week, and only a few minutes at a time. Over time I realize that the restructured opening could become loose and the need for GERD medication to control reflux...or worse having the surgery again...might be needed. However, for many patients the surgery seems to work for many years. My quality of life has improved immensly. I gained my energy back and became like a new person. I'm very thankful I met the surgeon and was able to have him perform this correction for me. I am also very thankful for my loving wife who saw me through thick and thin during this entire ordeal.

Hey, if you have a major reflux problem check out the procedure and make sure you get a surgeon with a lot of experience. It can change your life for the better. I can eat chocolate, drink beer, and even stand on my head without any problems now!