Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tea For One


Well, in all my moanings and wallowing lately I totally forgot to tell ya'll about my latest adventures in tea making!!  So, I finally got the nerve up to actually pick the tea and attempt to process it.  I have 3 bushes that survived out of six.  I originally bought 3 white blooming camellias and 3 red or pink blooming.  The pinks died.  They apparently did not like it here.  The whites are doing pretty good though.

Now, when it's time to pick, which is generally in the spring, you pick the last 2 leaves and the bud on the tip of the new growth at the end of the limb.  It's very easy to determine new growth because the stems and leaves are a very bright green.  This is the "first flush".  Supposedly there is a "second flush" sometime in the summer but I'm not sure about all that.

My shrubs are still kinda small so yeah, I didn't have a huge haul of leaves but that's okay.  I just wanted to have enough to process for a cup or two to see if I could even do it.  So, the first step is to wilt the fresh picked leaves in the sun.  I'm not sure how long this normally takes but I let mine sit for maybe a couple of hours.  Then you take the leaves between your hands and roll them so that you are crushing the leaves and releasing the juices.  Then you put the rolled leaves, still in a single layer, in a cool, dark area for a number of hours for the leaves to oxidize.  In this process they turn a bronzish color.  I think I left mine over night.



Then you take the leaves and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in a warm oven (about 250F) for about 15 minutes.  This is supposed to turn the leaves a dark black.  As you can see, some of mine did and some of them still stayed the bronzy color.  I turned the oven up and let them stay in for longer (about 30 minutes) but they never got any darker.  I think my mistake was that I did not roll the leaves hard enough or maybe wilt them long enough either.  At any rate, they did look very much like loose, gourmet tea that you buy so I was happy that it seemed close.

Finally, I brewed one cup using about 1  1/2 teaspoons of the leaves.  I was hoping for a dark breakfast type tea but that didn't happen.  However, I did get a nice, bright and pretty tasty green tea!  So, it wasn't all bad, I just need to do a bit more experimenting and research on how to get that dark, black tea flavor.  I really think crushing the leaves more is the key.  And maybe drying at a slightly higher temp.

It's pretty cool though, because you can get three types of tea from the same leaves just depending on how they are processed; either white, green or black!  And, in doing some more research, I also discovered that there are actually small tea plantations in Fairhope, Mobile and Andalusia, Alabama!  There's a big one in Charleston I think, or somewhere up there. lol! 
So, I think it was successful to a certain extent and I definitely learned a good bit from it.  And proved to myself and a number of other folks that you can grow tea in the United States! If you can grow camellias where you live, you can grow tea!


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Back To Black


 I truly had planned to post before now, and even sat down at the computer several times to start writing, but just couldn't get my brain to function well enough.  I've had a very bad headache for the past 4 days and I've been sorta stumbling around here like a zombie.  I finally got it to ease up some over last night but it always seems to come back in the late afternoon.  And we have another rain front coming in Monday and I'm just hoping and praying it doesn't start all over again.
Geez, I feel like all I ever do anymore is complain on this blog.  It is just so frustrating right now.  Everything hurts and I'm trying so many things and nothing seems to be working.  It just knocks the wind out of my sails and I get in a very low mood.  I'm fighting hard not to but sometimes I can't help it.


In some news though, Big T has gone to live at another home in north Alabama.  He had gotten to where I often had to watch out for him because he would attempt to jump me when I would be walking amongst the hens.  I got a couple of good kicks in and that discouraged him somewhat but he would still try to sneak up on me occasionally.  I don't know what made him get that way.  Never bothered Jack.  Anyway, that was not that big of a deal; I can handle a rooster.  The problem was he started picking on Zuzu and Peepers and ya'll know how I am about my sweet Speckles.  I admit those 2 are spoiled rotten and that rooster was not going to bother my babies.  Zuzu and Peepers are kinda low on the totem pole and of course that makes me take up for them even more, and I think because of this they are very shy and timid at times.  Big T just scared them to death and they would run from him whenever he tried to put the moves on them.  I think this pissed him off and he said, well, they will not be in my flock then, and started running them away from food we put out.  Well, that ain't going to fly around me.  So.  I kinda hated to get rid of him since we had raised him from such a little bittie, but nobody hates on Zu or Peep.  The guy I gave him to wanted to trade for some Silkie/ Cochin hens and I said, sure!  I've always wanted some Silkies and these 2 are just precious.  Unfortunately, I did not realize how much smaller Silkies are than regular hens and they are a bit intimidated of the girls.  And the girls are not terribly friendly towards them.  Oh, how I wish we still had Ramona who was always my ambassador to new girls.  She would befriend anybody and make them feel part of the group.  She was a good chicken.


Anyway, these 2 are just the cutest things ever.  That is Agnes on the right and Elvira on the left.  Elvira is pretty laid back but Agnes seems to be in a perpetually bad mood.  I suspect it is just a defense mechanism at being around so many large hens.  I love them though and they took right to the nesting boxes their first day and have laid good since.


Generally they hang out to themselves down by the coop but they do wander up near the house occasionally.  Interestingly, they don't seem to mind staying in the run all day, whereas the other girls act like you're killing them if you don't let them out to free-range by 10:00 a.m.  So, we let them stay in some after the others go out so they can have plenty of time and solitude to eat their crumble in peace.


I haven't even felt like taking many photos lately but I did get a few the other day.  I thought this one came out nicely.  I like the soft background.



The babies that Etta hatched are doing well and growing fast!  I hope we got mostly girls with these three.

I told ya'll we did get the garden planted but it seems the corn needs replanting.  My seeds were old apparently and hardly any has come up.  Everything else is doing well though.  We are trying a couple of new things this year that I will show ya'll soon.  One of which is plating runner beans instead of bush type so that they will grow up a trellis and I don't have to bend over to pick them.  I don't know what the hell I was ever thinking that made me plant bush beans!  And more than once too!  My back can't take that crap.  It's funny how you get stuff in your head though, about how you think something ought to be and it's hard to imagine it another way sometimes.  So, finally, I figured out, hey, I don't have to bend over to pick beans!  Duh!

I hope everyone has a fun and safe weekend and hopefully I'll have another post soon.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Purple Haze


I didn't really notice until recently that I have, apparently, such a penchant for purple flowers!  I really like red too but don't have as many of those.  Or I guess they just are not blooming at this time of the year.


So, I'm feeling a little better, although not totally over the debacle of that last show.  I finally got in to see the rheumatologist this past Friday, after waiting on that appointment for about 6 months.  Unfortunately, it seems not to have gone so well..  I could be wrong and it was just my mood talking but I don't think so really.  I was hurting pretty bad the day of the appointment and then had to sit for over an hour past my appointed time because he was late.  Actually, I only sat a little.  I literally could not take that pain so I stood in the waiting room and in the exam room.  No one seemed to notice.

I was rather amazed by it all because I've never had a bad experience at Kirklin but this one made up for all the others I guess.  The nurse's aide acted like she wished she was anywhere on this earth but at work, the doctor never acknowledged being late, no apologies for the wait and had about as much personality as a washrag.  I tried my best to be friendly and even joke around a little but that went over about like a turd in a punch bowl.  The doc ordered several blood tests and some X-rays but told me basically, not to get my hopes up for a diagnosis.  He said only about 50% of the time do these tests show anything conclusive so it was pretty much a crap shoot.  That was nice although I guess it was good that he was honest about it.
The lady who did my X-rays was super nice though and that helped some. 
 

So, I think I have pretty much given up on going to the doctor.  I don't see the point of it anymore.  I went this time because I was thinking that, if I ever need in the future to apply for disability, having an actual diagnosis is paramount.  And, of course, I was hoping that maybe there could be some treatment besides an ablation or just something I could use on occasion for this pain. But, it appears that once you say you don't want to take steroids that they kinda just write you off.  Or something; hell I don't know.  No one but Dr. Nabors has ever even asked me what was I doing for pain and they are quite aware that I am in a fair amount of pain on a regular basis.  Maybe they think I'm gunning for narcotics?  I guess that is probably common these days but not the case with me.  This doctor did seem kinda surprised that even the pain clinic didn't do anything for me or offer me any alternative besides the ablation.  They did drug test me and even after finding out I had nothing in my system still did not suggest any other treatment.  They did charge the hell out of me though and my wonderful insurance decided that they would only pay a fraction of it, so now I'm still paying off a visit that was basically for me to pee in a cup and talk to 2 doctors for maybe 20 minutes combined. 

And please know that I am NOT ranting against the doctors (well, a couple of them I am) ; it's mainly the insurance's system of only caring about how much money they can make.  I have met several really good doctors, I have great respect for those.  Dr. Nabors and my gynecologist, Dr. Summers.  Two great guys that truly care.  But I've met some shit heads too, to be fair.  They are in every profession.  And I suspect that liability has gotten so that nobody is willing to say anything definitive or give you any treatment unless some test show practically 100% positive results.  I also realize you don't want somebody that just blabs out everything like one doctor I went to that suggested (out loud to me) that I had everything from a brain tumor to hepatitis.  But I don't see where it's unreasonable to say, well, we've ruled out all this, and it really looks like it could be this, so let's try a little bit of this treatment and just see if it helps any.  Not this shrugging of shoulders, no advice and wanting me to come back in 4 weeks so they can shrug their shoulders again and charge me for it.  If I could just get something to help me out on these occasional bad migraines I get I would be ecstatic.
I also realize that I may not be expressing myself correctly to these doctors to indicate my need.  I have come to see that I don't always interact socially the way most people do and there could be some problem there, but I don't know what else to do.

So, that is ultimately the final straw.  I simply can't afford to go to the docs anymore for not even a suggestion of help.  Heck, I don't know that I could afford to go even if they did a little.  My insurance company has raised my premiums the past 2 years to the point that I truly can't afford to pay for much of anything above my monthly statement.  Couple that with the fact they don't fully cover many blood tests now and have stricter policies about what applies to your deductible.  I used to never have problems meeting my deductible but last year, despite what all I went through, I only met about one third of it.  And that's the real kick in the teeth and shows you just how screwed up our healthcare is (and how corrupt).  The pain and issues with my bones and such keep me from fully working as much as I normally could at times.  I don't work as much, I don't produce as much, I can't sell as much, therefore I don't make as much money.  So I can't afford to pay so much for medical care that might could help me get back to where I could work as much, so that I could better afford to pay for it.  Got that?  What a racket!

And before anyone suggest I sign up for the new ACA insurance...I've already tried, two years in a row.  They said Jack and I made too much money for me to qualify for a subsidy, which is the only way I could afford the new policies they want everyone to switch to.  Which, by the way, cover less than I have now (no dental) and would raise my deductible on some of them.  Nothing about our healthcare system was "reformed"; what a total joke.  The only thing that changed was that now, more people get government assistance to pay for their insurance.  And I'm sincerely happy that those people get help.  But those of us in the middle areas are getting screwed over more than ever, especially if you are self-employed.  Insurance and medical costs are just as high, if not higher, than they ever were.  That is why you can literally travel to another country, have surgery or whatever treatment (and good treatment too!), hang around for a while to visit the sites and come home, cheaper than you could have it done here at home.  Now, I don't know about you...but to me, something just ain't right about that.

So, that's my mini-rant I've had on my mind for some time now.  Basically, I've just said, fuck it.  I'll try to take care of it myself.  I'm truly grateful to the 2 doctors that have tried to help but unfortunately, my issues are not their specialty.  Well, Klippel-Feil is nobody's specialty!  No one even knows what it is.  So, I've been doing much research and am trying to go as anti-inflammatory as possible in my diet and supplements.  This new doctor did mark "non-specific spondylitis" on my chart too (which I had to look for; he would not tell me), so I'm just gonna kinda go with that and assume those treatments I can do myself, like exercise and diet.  I know an excellent, local herbalist who has helped me out in the past and I'll get some stuff from him too.  I'm now taking about 5,000mg of fish oil a day with curcumin and MSM.  There's some other stuff too but that's the brunt of it for inflammation.  And I have got to get religious about my stretching exercises, which did help some and keep up my regular aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, which helps prevent bone loss.  I've done real good in that regard!  I'm very proud to say I've lost about 25 pounds and hope to lose another 10 maybe!  Yay me!  I'm also avoiding milk and most milk products, peanuts and wheat.  It has definitely helped to stop the milk and we'll see about the rest.

In other news, we finally got the whole garden planted but I still have to mulch everything.  I'll try to do a garden post soon.  And we might have a few new additions to our flock...and maybe one subtraction!

I hope everybody our there is doing well!

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Get Knocked Down (But I Get Up Again)


   So, we had a beautiful 3-day weekend for the show in a very pretty area only about 30 minutes from the house.  And it was a disaster.  I won't say a total disaster, because I barely managed to make back my entry fee, gas and food, but it was a disaster from every other view.  The show had changed quite a bit from the last time I did it and I was not aware of this.  Should have done more research on my part I guess.  It appeared that people, the few that came, were mainly just looking for a nice, pretty place to enjoy a long stroll while eating a little snack food.  And buy a little SOS to keep the kids quite.  In case you are wondering, SOS is show slang for "shit on a stick"; the utter, worthless crap some vendors sell to cater to kids and relieve Mom and Dad of a dollar or two.  So, it was horrible.  I'll never go back and the next promising show within a reasonable distance is not until September.
 
But, I told Jack, this is just the impetus I need to stop trying to do these crap shows and focus on doing only legitimate art-centered shows.  Plus, I've now got a whole lot of inventory to get out to my retail stores and maybe even enough to pick up a new store I've had my eye on.  I'm trying very hard to maintain a non-crappy attitude.  Crap happens.
 
 Unfortunately, all the physical effort of the past few weeks, combined with sitting a good deal at this show has got my back and SI joint severely inflamed and I am in quite a bit of pain right now.  This really doesn't help matters, as you all know my attitude generally goes to shit when I'm hurting badly.  However, on a good note, I may have found out, medically speaking, exactly why my attitude goes to shit.  I found some very interesting studies done lately that I'll tell ya'll about later.  It's very depressing in one respect, as my condition will probably get worse as I get older, but gives me hope in another respect, because I might can do more to counter things if I know what is physically happening to me.

So, I'll try to post again soon, when I feel a little better.  I'm taking a few days off to recuperate and get caught up on a few things around here, like to finish planting the garden.  I washed 3 loads of clothes today and still am not done!  Got to clean house a bit too and get my studio back in a reasonable order.
See you soon!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Late Nights, Early Mornings


It has been and is still quite busy around here, what with getting ready for my first show and all.  I've been cranking out pottery as much as I can, firing non-stop and Jack has been working his butt off to get my new display shelves ready...or at least ready enough.
I have had time for a break here and there to snap a few photos of stuff going on.  And there is much going on in addition to show prep.


The male grosbeaks finally made an appearance!  I was very thrilled with this photo, btw.  They may be gone by now but over the weekend we were the hotspot for northern traveling birds!



 I know that this is a crappy photo but I wanted to show more than one at the feeder.  As a matter of fact, I counted 5 males at one point but couldn't get to a camera fast enough.  They are a little skittish about having their picture taken.


And Mama decided the 3 bitties that first hatched were enough and has been moved to the apartment with the little run so they don't have to worry abut the big chickens.  When they get a little bigger we will let them go out in the yard but for now this run is great.  And there really are 3, just can't see one for big Mama being in the way.


Random photos of things blooming now.  The peonies are always a delight.


My clematis is doing very well...finally.  It looks to be loaded with blooms this year.


And these iris are making a comeback after not doing so well last year.


We have managed to plant some of the garden.  So far, we have the okra, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage and eggplant in.  In addition to the lettuce and asparagus which are doing really well this year.  Got a few ripe strawberries today too but their bed is in much need to redoing.


I really loved the lines in this photo and the crazy thing..... I didn't notice any of that while taking the photo.  It didn't strike me until I had downloaded it.

So, back to the grindstone!  Not sure if I'll get to post before the show, which starts Friday.  Wish me luck!  I could really use it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Get It While You Can



Just a photo heavy post showing a little of what's going on around here.  The rains have slacked up a bit (even tho it's actually raining as I type this) and some warm sunny days have snapped the garden into production.  We have very little planted right now but hope to remedy that by the end of the week.  Looks like we are going to have waaaay more blueberries than we'll use this year!  I still have 2 bags in the freezer from last year.  It's a good problem to have though.


The lettuce in the asparagus bed seems to be dong well.  Time to plant the second wave.  The asparagus is doing really well too.  We have a constant supply on hand this year.  Maybe even enough for me to freeze a little for later.


The flowers are all doing well too.  Not a tremendous amount blooming right at this moment but that should change soon.


I don't know how much you can tell from this photo but this is one of my tea plants.  I have 3 left, out of 6.  They have not grown much over the past 3 years but this year they have put out a ton of the little new leaves that you actually make the tea from.  I am really going to try to pick some this year and experiment with actually making tea.


Jack tilled up part of the garden today in preparation for planting and the girls rushed in, while they are still allowed in, to bathe in the fresh, cool soil.  They really seemed to be enjoying themselves.


All except for Ms. Ella that is, who has gone broody for the umpteenth time, but since we actually have a rooster this year....we are going to let her sit on these eggs.  She has wanted to be a mama for so long I just didn't have the heart to take her off of them.  I hope some of them actually hatch for her!  We joked about it quite a bit because we are not sure that Big T is.....uhh....always hitting the target, let's say.  He falls off on his head sometimes but who knows?!  He may be a regular Don Juan of the chicken world.  Haha!


All the little songbirds are in the mood for love too!  Quite a lot of squawking and various activities.  Our regular bluebird pair has already hatched out one brood in the house in the garden, so we put up 2 more bluebird boxes around the place.  This one is behind the house and can be seen as you look out the kitchen windows.  The other day a bluebird pair was very busily building a nest in it, which is when I took this photo, but I have not noticed any activity since then.  Maybe they decided they didn't like it after all?  It is a good distance from the others so I don't think that is a problem.


I've noticed quite a lot of new (to me) birds around this year since we moved the feeder closer to the house.  At least 2 types of grosbeaks!  I think this is a female rose-breasted grosbeak and I also saw a male blue grosbeak but my photo of him did not turn out as well.  He also didn't stick around long but Ms. Grosbeak here stayed around for 2 or 3 days and was very laid back about photos; she didn't mind at all.  The indigo buntings have arrived also and I've been trying to get a good photo of them but no luck yet.

I also found out I was accepted to the local art fair here, so I'm going full-tilt now to make enough inventory for that.  The show is May 8-10 so I don't have long!  Hopefully, it will be profitable and worth all this effort lately.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend


Well, they are IF they come attached to saw blades or grinding pads.....the rest are fairly worthless.  You all may remember me pouring the first bar top for the kitchen way back in this post, and I finally got around to doing a bit more work on it.  For one thing, I really needed to get that thing out of my studio where it was taking up quite a bit of room.  I truly hate trying to work around clutter or junk and since I am really trying to ramp up production here for impending shows, that thing had to leave!  Secondly, it finally stopped raining for a few days so that I could actually work outside.  Of course, it doesn't matter if the slab gets rained on, but I didn't want to get rained on.


As matter of fact, it has to be soaked down real good before I could grind on it anyway.  The diamonds in the pads last longer, as the water cools things slightly, and it doesn't stir up the dust when it's wet.  And you actually have to keep wetting it as you work.  A messy job for sure but these rubber aprons came in very handy! 
At first, it seemed like I was only managing to scrub the grout out of the slab, because it remained slightly rough, but after getting up to about 200 grit and staying on that for a while the concrete began to polish up quite nicely.  I will not be able to polish the cast in place counter tops quite this well, I don't think, so I didn't want a mirror finish on these bar tops and have them not match.  So I just kept it at 200 grit.  Actually, I did go up to 400 grit but the red pads started staining my grey concrete.  NOT good.  I believe I will have to email the maker of these pads and express my displeasure at that.  So, I went back down to 200 and polished until the stains came out, which didn't take too long.


I finished the sides off a little and called it good.  I was very pleased with the way this one came out.  Hopefully I made it the correct dimensions.  Ha!  Just kidding....sorta.  It's still outside now, drying out a bit and then we will bring it inside and set it in place.  It will not be permanently anchored yet.  I just want to get it inside where it can fully dry in a less humid and rainy environment and it not be in my way somewhere.  After a couple of weeks I'll anchor it in place (basically glued) and finish sealing it.


If you click on this photo you can get a good look up close at the finish.  Keep in mind it is wet so that accounts for the high gloss.  The finish I'll put on it will be more a semi-gloss or satin.  As I said, I am very pleased with the look of this mix and how the aggregate looks when polished.  Very cool.  It reminds me of some of the recycled glass counter tops I've seen.  This is considerably cheaper though!  Now I just need to find a good food-safe, water proof sealer.