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Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Day in a Life with COPD, Time for those New Year's Resolutions

Anyone who works with people nearing the end of their lives has shared the heartbreaking lamentations of regret in their lives. We hear about unfilled dreams out of resistance in leaving comfort zones, poor choices which carried consequences, crippling fears, going through the motions of life rather than living it, not spending enough time with loved ones, too much work and too little play.

Being the mortal creatures we are, it is expected that our physical bodies will eventually fail us. But it is absolutely tragic when by not taking care of our health while we had it, people sink into the downhill spiral of chronic disorders and disease.

COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the fourth major cause of death in the USA.
Far too often, people smoke for years and know full well about all the warning labels. They get irritated with all the nagging from loved ones about what could happen down the road. But at the time, down the road is down the road, not a reality when the desire for a cigarette is what is important in the now. Feeling fine for years, a good bout with bronchitis or pneumonia can become the beginning of a very unwelcome chapter in life.

Let me take you through an ordinary day for someone living with this chronic condition. A condition that has no turning back, only a dismal future as lung function slowly deteriorates.

Another day of feeling disappointment with even waking up. Depression goes hand in hand with COPD patients and most of them are on anti-depressants and/or anxiety medication. Emotional depression is a problem in itself as it lowers the immune system and puts a body at higher risk for further health problems. Lack of interest in anything usually results in lack of physical and mental activity, and far too much time simply staring at the television.  Lack of movement further weakens the body and increases loss of muscle mass. Eventually, simply getting dressed can cause shortness of breath. Lack of mental stimulation results in cellular death in the brain.

COPD patients are repeatedly told that their lungs are a muscle and to not exert themselves will result in an acceleration of loss of function. It is a double edge sword. Exertion results in shortness of breath. Shortness of breath results in anxiety and panic. The fear of not being able to breath is very real and that fear can become paralyzing. So rather than working through all the purse lip breathing and relaxation techniques taught by the therapists, patients too often choose to do as little as possible in their attempts to avoid the inevitable panic. To panic usually results in breathing too fast, too shallow and  hyperventilation is the outcome.  They forget all about the slow, deep inhale (count to 5), long slow exhale (count to 10) pursed lip technique. Caregivers walk on eggshells, always wondering when to call 911. Feeling helpless, we try to walk them through the slow breathing, give an anxiety pill, use the albuterol nubulizer, and hope for the spell to pass. The use of a finger pulse oximeter lets us know what is the blood oxygen rate. As long as it is in the 90's we're supposed to rest assured the patient isn't going to die in front of us, he or she just needs to calm down. If the rate is in the 80's then there is reason to rush to the ER. That is little comfort for the person struggling to take a breath.

Oxygen is life. When the body is deprived of enough oxygen, cells die. Brain function declines right along with the strength of the body. COPD patients are often tortured with confusion and wonder if they are developing Dementia on top of everything else. Insecurity about their
own sanity, decline in problem solving and calculating skills only adds to the problem of depression. The day the task of handling one's own finances and writing out checks is turned over to someone else is a very bleak day indeed. Lack of control over one's life and losing all sense of independence and productivity is debilitating, defeating and very depressing.

A typical day for the COPD patient revolves around their nebulizer treatments, time consuming methods of inhaling medication through a pipe type contraption. On an ordinary day this is done twice a day, and if the patient is having a "bad" day the albuterol may be needed several times.  These treatments don't repair or heal any of the lung damage, they are to make life more comfortable. Familiar types are Perforomist, used to help with bronchospasms, Budesonide, a steroid that reduces inflammation, Albuterol,  a bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways and increases air flow to the lungs. Spiriva is a hand held inhaler, also a bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways and increases air flow to the lungs. Any of these medications have their own potential side effects. Patients need to deal with lack of appetite, increased anxiety, metallic taste in the mouth, dry mouth, coughing, fungal infections related to the use of the steroid, increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, and increased confusion.So difficult it is to get to the bottom of complaints when any of them could be medication related.

One of the worst days in a COPD patient's life is the day they were told treatments are no longer enough and they need to be on supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The arrival and instructions for the Visionaire Concentrator, which is the stationary tank providing continuous oxygen, is a surreal experience to say the least. Tubing runs from the tank to the nose piece of the patient, tethering them forever like a ball and chain. If the person wants to wander beyond the length of the tubing hose, he/she has to drag the machine along with them.

To leave the house, there are various types of portable oxygen tanks. We have the M6 size tank which is carried like a backpack and depending on the level of oxygen needed, can last from 4 - 8 hours. What that means is that the patient always needs to be prepared when going anywhere by taking along spare tanks.

Financially, the cost of such a chronic condition can wipe out a person's life savings or eat up a good portion of their monthly income. A trip to the pharmacy usually sets off another period of a sour day when once again the patient is reminded how much the smoking habit has cost them. The idea of paying to simply breathe the air we all take for granted is mind-boggling.

People living with such a condition often say they no longer fear death itself, but rather how death will come. Admission to the hospital can become a recurring event, and with each visit they are at risk for pneumonia, infection just from being there, blood clots from lack of movement, and upon discharge, weaker than when they went in.

New Year's resolutions are often said with humor. There is nothing remotely funny about flimsy, good intentions when it comes to cigarettes. Often smokers claim to actually enjoy their cigarettes. Yes, cigarettes can relieve tension, can reduce appetite, can be a comfort when lonely or grieving, can be like a best friend; but a true friend doesn't turn the tide and be your downfall. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fill The Bird Feeders and Enjoy the Show

Keeping the bird feeders full during the cold season may seem an unnecessary expense, but there is great satisfaction in watching all the activity, and it is difficult to watch hungry birds flutter around empty feeders. On brutally cold days or when the forecast is calling for snow, those feeders will be emptied before nightfall.

The feed we use consistently is black oil sunflower seeds. These nutritious seeds are a powerhouse of needed fat and protein for a variety of birds. On snowy days, there is a constant flow of activity from cardinals, bluejays, mourning doves, titmice, black-cap chickadees, sparrows, juncos and finches. Nothing is wasted. Any spillage of seed from the feeders themselves is soon cleaned up by those birds who don't usually perch at a feeder, such as the mourning doves.

I add a bit of what is called Flyer's Choice which is a combination of sunflower seeds, safflower, and white millet. Don't bother with the inexpensive feeds with red millet. The birds often just bypass it and knock it out of the feeder. I used to mix cracked corn with the feed for the ground feeders, but stopped because I just attracted more starlings, who then cleaned me out of suet.

Finches love niger or thistle seed which is best offered in thistle feeders which allow them to feed upside down or from a thistle sock.

Suet blocks are very appreciated, especially by woodpeckers and nuthatches, who are so pretty to watch skimming up and down the tree trunks.

If you supply food, try to offer a water source as well. The heated bird bath pictured was purchased from The Garden Supply catalog, but most likely they are offered at any good farm supply store or nursery. You'll need a power outlet, but what is convenient is that this bird bath is made of heavy duty plastic yet isn't that heavy. Therefore, you can move it from wherever you put it in your gardens for the summer months to a place supplying power for the winter. The cord wraps neatly inside the stand when not being used. Birds don't like deep water so I keep a rock in the middle of the bowl for them to have a solid perch. Plus the weight helps keep the bowl from tipping on a windy day.

If you have cats and let them outside, try to keep your cats inside during the busiest feeding times, which are in the early mornings and at dusk. Once birds sense danger they are less apt to visit your stations.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cranberry Oat Drop Cookies, Easy Pleasin' Holiday Baking

 An easy to please drop cookie recipe not only delicious, but pretty enough to brighten up any table or cookie platter assortment. Loaded with cranberries, perhaps the reindeer may even share a bite with Santa.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
 3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 tbsp. orange juice

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

2 1/2 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
   (chop in food processor for just a few seconds,
               you don't want them mushy)
1/2 cup rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars.
Add the milk, egg and orange juice.
In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
Add gradually to the creamed mixture and mix well.
Stir in the cranberries and the oats. Batter will be thick.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on wire racks.
Makes 4 - 5 dozen depending on their size.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Homemade Applesauce, Easier than you Think

September brings the arrival of apple season in the pack houses of your local orchards.  By November, the apples are picked, sorted, and available for purchase at the best seasonal prices. Fall is the time to buy in bulk and make nutritious, homemade applesauce.

The rule of thumb when wondering how much to buy is that it takes between 2.5 -3 pounds of fruit to yield one quart prepared sauce. A peck is 10 - 12 pounds or around 32 apples. It takes 4 pecks to equal 1 bushel.

Next is to decide what types of apples are good for applesauce. 
Tart apples make for excellent applesauce because they allow the adjustment of the sweetness by adding sugar to taste. Baldwin, Rome and Jonathan apples are good all-purpose varieties because they are juicy and mildly tart. Green apples are juicy and tart, and their crispness gives a nice, thick texture to homemade applesauce.

McIntosh, Northern Spy and Cortland are soft apples which cook quickly and easily mash. So as the sauce isn't too mushy or watery, Stayman, a semi-soft apple, is good to add for texture.

 Fuji and Gali apples are two of the best baking varieties you can use for applesauce, due to their perfect combination of firmness, juiciness and sweetness.

Some people just blend a variety of apples, yet others know their types well enough to be more fussy.
Apple types not to use are Red and Golden Delicious and Empire. Red and Golden Delicious are good eating apples but once cooked are too mild, and Empire is too watery.

Before starting the cooking process, the first thing to do with your apples is to wash off any dirt, bacteria, pesticide and waxes. You can either use a vinegar wash or a bleach wash.
For a vinegar wash, add 1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar to a sink full of water and soak the apples for 15 minutes.
For a diluted bleach wash, add 1 tbsp. bleach per quart of water and soak for 15 minutes.
For either method, drain the sink and rinse the apples with water.

There is no need to peel or remove the cores from your apples. Just cut into quarters or wedges and fill up a soup pot. Add only about an inch of water to get it going since the apples will quickly release their own juices. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Use a large spoon to stir in order to bring the soft, cooked apples to the top and the top layer too the bottom. Pay attention so you don't scorch the apples with too high heat before the juices flow. The apples only need about 20 minutes till soft.

Turn off the heat, remove the pot from the heat, take off the lid and let sit until cool enough to safely handle. Ladling hot apples into the press or mill can be messy and any splashes can result in a burn.

The press pictured here is called an Italian Tomato Press or Mill (there are other types available)and can be used to mash up any cooked fruit or vegetable. I use it mainly for making applesauce and pumpkin puree.

Once the apples have cooled off a bit, you are ready to make your sauce. Add one bowl to catch the pulp and another bowl to catch the sauce. Use a ladle to spoon into the chute. Turn the crank and watch how nifty this gadget is at separating the sauce from the skin, core and seeds. Once done, add any sweetener and/or cinnamon if you desire.

If you plan on freezing your sauce, divide into smaller containers and freeze.
If you plan to hot water bath using mason jars, bring the sauce back to the boiling point, stir to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. Use a funnel to carefully ladle the sauce into your quart or pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the rims clean, remove any air bubbles by pushing a wooden spoon handle down around the edges of the jar, and place your lids. Add the jars to your canner, (racks hold seven jars), add water to cover jars by one inch above the top. Bring to a boil and process pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes. Remove the jars from the water and place on a rack to cool. You will know they sealed by listening for the pop in the lid.

Enjoy your homemade goodness!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Veterans Day Note of Gratitude

This post is to honor all of our American armed forces for their sacrifice, stamina, and dedication to their country. They have made a commitment, that as a united force, enables us to choose our own choices with our lives, to speak our minds and go where we please. The fact that all the men and women in the armed forces are voluntary is an amazing concept to grasp.

It is true that all men must register with the Selective Service when they turn 18 years of age. This is done in case there is ever the need for combat soldiers, but even then it is completely random as to how those person's are chosen. Everyone is on the same level, with no partiality to social status. The reason women aren't required to register is not that they wouldn't be able to serve, but that registration is for the purpose of preparing combat troops. Women had been excluded from combat in the past but that is no longer the case.

The thought may be with some as to why in the world someone would voluntarily enter into something that will literally control their lives and possibly put them in harms way. Those who do so are of the mindset that our country needs help to maintain her principles for continued freedom. We should be grateful to live in the U.S.A and have protection from those who may want to do us harm. We have to realize that while we have our rights, those rights are a privilege. Those rights were earned through the sacrifices of those before us, who fought for what they believed, many losing their lives in the process.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who signs those enlistment papers. Of course we want peace and for all of our young people to be safe at home. But given the fact that we live in a world of dispute and violence, even if you don't agree with current politics, the fact remains that we can sleep at night with the security that we have our military always on watch. So let us support the decisions of those who chose to walk this path. Let us support them with our prayers, and encourage them to stand tall with pride in their contributions for this country.

My son is amidst the tired, yet proud group of men and women pictured above, who had just completed their Army Basic Training. When you think that all of them are volunteers, and the fact that with every cycle of training, there will be another group standing there in that same place, it is indeed something to be appreciated.

Take a moment not only today,but every day, to say a silent prayer of gratitude and safe keeping for all of those who serve. Let them know they are appreciated and not taken for granted.

Enjoy your Veterans Day!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Repurposed Fall Decor for Your Door

Autumn craft shows offer many beautiful items for your home decor, but there are things you can do yourself that will cost you next to nothing. With a little planning ahead and imagination you can have the materials on hand to make your own door hangings to add a seasonal touch to your home.

Though I have a vengeance for the Oriental Bittersweet because it is an invasive vine that crawls over anything in its path, I do appreciate its beautiful berries that in October, split open to display the red seeds within their yellow casings. These woody vines can be cut to gather these clusters to be used for wreaths, swags or fall centerpieces. Eventually, these twiggy branches get messy as the casings and berries dry out and fall off, but they will last throughout the holiday season.

An idea for a door decoration is to find an old leaf rake, and remove the rake part from the wooden handle. Use your imagination with how you arrange your gathered materials. Pictured here is a very simple idea. All that was used was evergreens, the Oriental Bittersweet branches and tiny gourds mounted on wooden dowels (these were found at a thrift shop, but craft stores carry all kinds of ideas if you don't have access to your own). Use a bit of twine, rope, or wire to form a loop for hanging, and attach to the back of the rake. You now have a unique door decoration ready to hang.

An idea for a simple, yet beautiful swag, is to use Chinese Lanterns (also known as Winter Cherry). This hardy, drought tolerant, perennial is very easy to grow but be aware that it easily spreads. Great if you want an effective ground cover or just want an abundance of the sought after orange, papery, lantern shaped seed cases to gather in the fall for flower arrangements. Plant in containers if you don't want it popping up all over your garden area. A member of the nightshade family, be aware if you have young children or pets, that the plant is considered toxic if ingested.

Once the lanterns turn from green to orange, cut the stems at the ground level and trim off the leaves. If you wait till early November, a lot of the leaves will have shriveled up on their own, which makes it easier to remove them, but if you do wait that long there is a chance the lanterns won't be as pretty if they started to break down or develop holes in them.

Once you have enough for a bundle, gather the heavier stem ends together and bind with a piece of twine, wire or rope. Swags are much easier to make than wreathes, yet beautiful to brighten up a door or wall. If kept out of the sun, Chinese Lantern decorations last a long time before the color starts to fade. To keep them dust free, put a sock over your vacuum hose and lightly sweep the arrangement.



Sunday, October 27, 2013

Know your Christmas Trees

Once Thanksgiving is behind us, there comes the search for that perfect Christmas tree. Tree farms become busy places as people reserve their favorite pick with that telltale "taken" tag. 

The idea of symbolizing evergreen trees goes way back into history. Because evergreens stay green and don't drop their needles, with the arrival of the winter solstice people would look to the evergreen tree as a symbol of life's triumph over death. In addition to the evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe were also collected and brought into the home to ward off evil spirits and show hope for the forthcoming spring.

Our modern Christmas tree evolved from the early traditions of the Germans and Scandinavians during the Middle Ages.  It is said that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. The story goes that around 1500, Martin Luther was so impressed by the beauty of snow covered evergreens shimmering in the moonlight, that he set up a little tree indoors, and decorated it with candles to honor Christ's birth. The balsam fir twigs resemble crosses, so it is said that perhaps that is how the firs became so popular as Christmas trees.

History has it that the Christmas tree tradition came to the United States with the Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio. The custom didn't take off very quickly. The Puritans in New England didn't even celebrate Christmas and throughout New England, schools remained open, with a penalty for those who chose to stay home in celebration. 

Supposedly, the Christmas tree market was born in 1851 when Catskill farmer Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City and sold them on the street. By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree and within 20 years the custom was nearly universal.

The business of Christmas tree farms didn't take off until the hard economic times of the depression. Nurserymen needed to come up with another means for selling their evergreens, as people just didn't have the money for landscaping. How brilliant to begin cultivating trees, and pruning them for the attractive, symmetrical shape desired over wild trees.

Only six species account for about 90 percent of the nation's Christmas tree industry. Scotch pine ranks first with about 40 percent of the market, followed with Douglas fir which accounts for about 34 percent.

Firs (Abies Species) are very popular because they don't shed their needles as the tree dries out and retain that wonderful smell of the outdoors.

Fraser Fir is a favorite. Its 1" needles are silvery-green and soft to the touch, and being there is space between the branches, the Fraser is easy to decorate. The branches are firm which is ideal to hold heavier ornaments without them sliding off.

Noble Fir is a deep green and a very lovely branch shape. This feature makes them very desirable for making into fresh wreaths. Spacing and strength of the branches also make this tree easy to hand and hold ornaments.

Douglass Firs are beautiful and popular trees with their soft shiny green needles. The problem with this type is that they tend to be sheared so perfectly into the conical shape, too little space is left between branches for the decorations.

Colorado Blue Spruce is beautiful with its blue, silvery foliage and strong limbs. Spruces are good for those heavier ornaments. Just be aware that the spruces are much more prickly than the firs.
The Meyer Spruce, native to Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, is another type of spruce tree known for its hardiness.

 Norway Spruce are great if you only want to have the tree in the house for a week or two. This tree type doesn't hold its needles well and it is important to keep it properly watered to maintain some needle retention.
The most popular in Europe, and usually the cheapest, the Norwegian capital city Oslo, provides the cities of New York, London (the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree), Edinburgh and Washington D.C. with a Norway Spruce, which is placed at the most central square of each city.

Eastern White Pines are beautiful with their long, feathery needles, but may be too flexible to support many decorations. Pines are popular to use as garlands, wreaths and centerpieces.

Scotch Pines have wonderful needle retention and being they resist drying out, last indoors for the duration of the holiday season. However, their needles are very sharp, so care has to be taken during handling.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree,  Manhattan, New York City

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pineapple Sage, An Autumn Beauty

Young Pineapple Sage shown in June
Flowering Pineapple Sage in September

One of the fascinating aspects of our natural environment is how the plant and animal worlds are so interwoven in their life cycles and the seasons.
Summer's end may see a winding down in energy of our flower gardens as they go to seed, the days are shorter, the nights colder. But then there comes a burst of color as late flowering plants offer much needed nourishment to our beneficial insects and migrating hummingbirds. Pineapple Sage is one such plant.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird
It may seem like the busy activity of our hummingbirds suddenly disappear as the calender pages turn to the fall months. Resident hummingbirds that have been around all summer may already be gone but we have to remember those that are migrating and are simply passing through. We had the fascinating privilege of observing three hummingbirds flitting around our deck one cool evening in October. I didn't know they were active at night so it was a neat sight.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) is just that, a beautiful elegant plant. The genus name comes from the Latin word for "save". In ancient times it was often the official sage of the apothecary, a sacred herb used to treat a wide range of diseases. The Native Americans used it for smudging their souls and purifying the air.

Pineapple Sage is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) which all have square stems and opposite leaves. It is a tender perennial which means it survives winter only if it's in a sheltered spot and doesn't get below 45 degrees, hardy only to Zone 7. If you live in Zones 8 to 10, where temperatures go no lower than 30 degrees, your pineapple sage will probably winter over.

 It is usually grown from seeds sown indoors in the spring or gardeners pot up the plants in late summer and keep them in an unheated garage until spring. You can get two years out of them this way before they get too woody and weak. By that time it is best to take stem cuttings from the new growth that emerges in the spring and set them to root in damp potting soil. Once put out in the desired garden area they do best in moist, well-drained soil and full sun, though will tolerate a bit of light shade.

Planted directly in the ground Pineapple Sage can reach 4 feet high and wide. The oval, lanceolate leaves are an attractive yellowish-green which are a beautiful contrast with the dark-red, hairy stems and bright-red blooms. These bright scarlet, tubular flowers are what attracts the hummingbirds. Each spike produces 6 to 12 flowers arranged in widely spaced whorls around the stem. The blooming season is brief, only about two weeks, but timed accordingly with the hummingbirds migration period before frost arrives.

Though most people grow this beauty as an ornamental for their late summer blooms, there are other uses for this delicious, pineapple scented plant. When people think of sage they usually think of its use for poultry and holiday stuffing. But being sage is a good source of vitamin K and high antioxidant levels it is wise to add it to your cooking year round. Added to grain side dishes its slightly peppery taste will enliven the taste of wild and brown rice, barley and lentils as well as sauces and stews. Thread the leaves between meat, mushrooms and onions on kebabs.

The fresh leaves add extra flavor to fruit salad, drinks and teas. Pineapple sage has a wonderful fragrance but little flavor, so for a good herbal tea combine it with the white varegated Pineapple Mint.

Sage leaves and flowers can also be dried for later use or to add to wreaths and potpourris.
Whole leaves retain their flavor better than those that are crushed so wait until ready to use them to crush for cooking.
To dry:
You can use a dehydrator or screens to dry the leaves or use the following method:

Harvest the leaves still on the stem
If necessary wash under running water to remove any dirt.
Place in a colander to dry and pat with a paper towel.
Bunch the stems together and put into a brown paper bag.
Close the bag and tie with twine or string.
Poke holes in the bag for ventilation.
Hang bag by the string in a warm, dark and airy area such as attic or closet.
Allow to dry for two to three weeks, checking occasionally for mold.
If there are signs of mold, throw away the bag.
Once thoroughly dry with no soft spots, snap the leaves from the stems.
Stems can be discarded.
Store dried sage leaves in an airtight container away from light. Dried herbs lose their potency after six months to a year.

Below is a yummy jelly recipe from Lemon Verbena Lady

Makes four 8-ounce jars
• One 12-ounce can of Old Orchard Pineapple Juice, frozen concentrate, reconstituted with 3 cans of water (It makes three recipes of jelly once it is reconstituted.)
• 2 cups of pineapple juice
• 1 1/2 cups of pineapple sage leaves, packed
• 3 1/2 cups of sugar
• 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar OR lemon juice, your choice of one
• 1 pinch of salt
• 1 pouch of liquid pectin
1. Wash and dry the pineapple sage in paper towels, then coarsely chop it. Put the pineapple sage in a large saucepan, and crush the leaves using the bottom of a glass. (I use a food processor.) Add the juice, bring slowly to a boil, and boil for 10 seconds. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes to steep.
2. Strain 1 1/2 cups of liquid from the saucepan and pour through a fine strainer into another saucepan. Add the vinegar of your choice (or lemon juice), salt and sugar, and bring to a hard boil while stirring. When the boil can't be stirred down, add the pectin. Return to a hard boil that can't be stirred down and boil for exactly 1 minute, then remove saucepan from heat.
3. Skim off the foam and pour the hot jelly into four hot, sterilized (in boiling water for 10 minutes) half-pint jelly jars. Leave 1/2-inch (or less) headspace and seal at once with sterilized 2-piece lids. I just leave my lids in hot water not boiling until you need them. Can the jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
4. To use: I would use this jelly on thumbprint cookies, cream cheese and crackers for a quick appetizer and a teaspoon or two as a glaze for the last 15 minutes of baking chicken or pork.

Any type of sage can be used for this lovely facial mask. This recipe comes from Janice Cox's book "Natural Beauty At Home".

• 1/2 cup boiling water
• 1 tablespoon fresh pineapple sage leaves
• 3 tablespoons oatmeal
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 1 egg white
1. Pour water over sage leaves; cool completely. Strain and add sage liquid to oatmeal, honey and egg white. Mix until smooth and creamy.
2. Spread mixture on clean skin and leave on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with warm water and pat skin dry.

The oatmeal and honey rid pores of any surface impurities and the egg white is astringent. For dry skin, add a teaspoon of olive oil as well. Follow with a moisturizer.
Makes 2 oz. Store leftover mask mixture in the refrigerator.

Sage is also known as an aid to help with dandruff and graying hair. For this purpose you would make it into an infusion (like a strong tea) and use as a hair rinse. Pineapple Sage would give it a tropical scent.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Drought Resistant & Attracts Hummingbirds? Plant Spider Flowers

 Being we are into October, Halloween themes are on our minds. Since spiders fit into that thought, the idea for this post came as I was saving seed from one of my absolute favorite summertime annuals, the Spider Flower.

A cottage garden flower that is about as maintenance free as you can get is the Cleome, or better known as Spider Flower (Cleome hasslerana). It doesn't attract spiders. It got that nickname because of the spidery-like flowers with long, waving stamens.

After all the excitement to which we greet spring and the energy we put into our gardens and flowers it can be very defeating to witness the slow demise of our beloved plantings due to extreme heat and too little rainfall. By planting drought resistant bedding plants, you can relieve yourself of the tiresome chore of watering and babying your plants. Cleome is heat and drought tolerant.

Cleome grows in all zones and once it is planted and goes through a growing season, left on its own it will drop seeds and reappear the following spring. These plants reach a height of 6 feet and if spaced about a foot apart will have a beautiful span as it spreads its strong, waving stems. An attractive cottage flower, this annual looks great amidst shrubs, planted in mass, or as a background plant. Keep in mind that you may not want it near walkways or a doorway because it is pricky to brush up against and has a musky odor somewhat like Cannabis. The smell isn't one that you get by sticking your nose in and taking a whiff. It's more of a subtle scent that you may or may not smell in passing.

Start seeds indoors four weeks before the last frost or plant them directly outdoors in spring after danger of frost has passed. Germination takes about 10 days. The smaller the seed the closer to the surface it should be planted. The rule usually is to plant a seed at a depth of 3x its size. These tiny seeds need some light to germinate. Try to space the seeds about a foot apart. If planted too thickly and not thinned,  they will be small and spindly. Cleome tolerates heat and dry weather, and offers you a variety of shades in pink, somewhat purple and white color all summer long.
Staking is usually not necessary, and they are not bothered by pests and disease. Strong winds may bend or knock them over but overall they are very tough plants. If you need any more convincing,  they are a favorite of hummingbirds, which is something many us love to have come visit.

By September you'll notice the formation of seed pods. By early October these pods will begin to split and spill its pepper-like seed. You can just let them fall where they may or you can gather some to plant in another designated spot next spring. Those on the ground will lie dormant till then. The ones you gather should be stored in a dry, cool place.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Homemade Hot Pepper Jelly

Made just in time for football weekends, homemade hot pepper jelly is always an anticipated seasonal treat.

This recipe can easily be altered for personal preference of hotness, depending on what type of peppers you use. In this year's garden I grew a type called Big Hot Cherry, a cute little roundish red pepper. So pleased with the degree of zing, being it has just enough bite without shocking the palate, I intend on planting this type again next season. There are many types of peppers. For those who like it really hot, use 4 Habernero peppers and 1 Bell pepper in place of the 12 oz. weight called for in this recipe. For milder jelly, just experiment with different types and amounts of hot peppers and bell peppers. I used about 8 Big Hot Cherry peppers and a few Banana peppers for a total scale weight of 12 oz.  Banana peppers are what I happened to have on hand, but the recipe calls for 1 large green Bell pepper.

To prepare for jelly making, have your jars and lids ready. This recipe makes 6 cups jelly so you'll need 6 1/2 pint size jars or 3 pint size jars, or whatever combination you want.
Wash the jars, lids, and rings carefully in hot soapy water, even if you just bought them. Rinse well in hot water. Put the jars in a large pot filled with enough water to submerge the jars. Bring to a boil, turn temperature down just enough so the jars don't rattle around so much and boil for 5 minutes.  Carefully grasp jars with tongs, and drain water from them before setting them, right side up, on paper towels. Put the lids and rings in a smaller pot and let simmer until ready for them.


12 oz. total weight hot pepper and Bell pepper combination
2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2 pouches Ball Liquid Pectin or Certo


Wear rubber gloves to work with hot peppers.
Cut up the peppers and remove the seeds.
Put the peppers in a blender.
Pour the apple cider vinegar over the peppers and blend well.
Pour this mixture into a large pot.
Add the sugar and mix well to dissolve.
Bring this mixture to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Stay at the stove and stir constantly. Once this comes to a boil it rises and will overflow if you're not right there to stir and reduce heat enough to keep it boiling and so it settles down.
Remove the pot from the heat and strain. I use a jelly bag stretched over a metal or glass bowl.
Discard the pulpy part in the jelly bag.
Return the strained liquid to the stove and bring back to a boil for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the Certo.
Careful as this is boiling hot, ladle the jelly into your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Place lids and rings on jars, secure tightly, and turn the jars upside down for 5 minutes.
Turn the jars right side up and allow to cool completely before storing.
You'll hear the popping sound as one by one the jars seal.

If you plan on using the jelly in the near future you may not want to bother with the lids and rings step for long term storage. Just let the jelly cool, use plastic lids, and store in the refrigerator.

Hot Pepper Jelly makes a great gift idea. Add a label and a pretty ribbon around the lid and voila!

Hot Pepper Jelly makes a wonderful snack served on crackers, pita bread, bagels or english muffins. Add some cheese and fresh fruit and you have a great idea for entertaining.