Friday, October 30, 2009

Cochineal Dye and Prickly Pear Cactus

What is white and cottony and lives on cactus and makes lipstick rosy, embroidery carmine, and fruit punch red?

There's a little bug that makes a beautiful red dye. It is the Cochineal bug, and it is still today the safest red food coloring there is. While other, artificial red dyes were found to be hazardous and carcinogenic, this ancient natural product of Mexico is something we can use without worry. Fruit punch is often colored with it (although I bet you won't find "little critter" in the list of ingredients)! If you are an artist, this is the basis for "carmine" in your paints.

These little bugs live on Prickly Pear plants. They make cotton to hide in, and you can spot the little tufts of cotton even from the road. They don't move about at all, once they are in their little cottony blankets. I think they must live whereever Prickly Pear cactus lives, because I have seen them everywhere.

They are grown commercially, raised on cactus plantations in South and Central America and the Canary Islands. They are harvested and dried, and that is pretty much it - they don't require much processing.

In fact if you mash them you will have water-soluble carmine dye suitable for use in anything you wish to turn red.

They may need a fixative when used for dyeing fabric or yarn, to reduce fading and running, although they will never be completely dye-fast. If you've ever taken socks out of the washer and found they had turned pink, you may have washed something with them that had been dyed with cochineal.

Cochineal is the main reason that we "wash reds separately"!

Monday, October 26, 2009

First Wood Fire of the Season

I lit our first fire of the season on Sunday, and had a fire all day today while it was cold and drizzly outside. Ah it is nice! Our stove is fully closed, so you can't see the fire inside and there is no odor. It provides radient heat that doesn't dry out the air. We think it is the best heat either of us have ever had.

I talk about how I build a fire in our wood stove, how I load it, tend it and manage it, but I am no expert. :-) Safety First! Please get expert advice for YOUR stove and YOUR situation before building your own fire so that you can be safe. Each stove is different, and some have different tolerances for how the fire is supposed to be built, tended and managed. Do your homework. Talk to your local Fire Department and the folks you bought your stove from. Be sure to do research for your particular brand and type of stove. Online, (linked from my sidebar) has been a great help to me and is a good starting point.

As mentioned previously, we have oak firewood, and some pecan. I save all the little branches and deadfalls from our pecan trees all year and use these for my kindling (little sticks and bigger sticks). They work great. When I have time, I break them into pieces and stack them in buckets or tubs, then I can just bring some up under the carport to have handy. I bring up firewood in my wheelbarrow, one load at a time because I do not want it stacked near the house (too tempting for pests). We are keeping our eyes open for a good wood rack we can put under the carport, but in the meantime my wheelbarrow works fine.

For some reason, I always have a little trouble building a brand new fire in a clean stove. Once there's some ash cover underneath the grate, a new fire catches easy.

It took me most of the first winter, and then I finally got the hang of it. The old Boy Scout method seems to work best for me: a pile of little sticks, bigger sticks on top of that, and finally small logs. Once those small logs are burning well, I can add a bigger log. When there is a nice bed of coals and still some fire on the larger logs, I can add a big, unsplit log, turn down the damper and it will burn slowly all night.

I use the fire starters made from sawdust and wax - I buy them ready made and break one in half and put a half on each end on top of the little sticks, under the bigger sticks. Then I light those. Once they are burning I close the stove door and open the damper. When those logs are all burning nicely, I open the door and add a bigger log, then I can close the damper a little and it will burn at just the right speed for our stove.

That's it really. Our stove has a temperature gauge on top and I can "adjust" the external temperature (as measured by the gauge) by opening and closing the damper. The damper is what allows air into the stove. The more air coming in, the faster the burn. Too little air and
the fire will go out (although the logs may still smolder a long time so always assume there are hot coals in a stove).

I try to keep the gauge at about 300 degrees. That seems to be a good temp for our house and is not too high for my stove. It can be dangerous to let the temp get too high, and can even damage the stove itself. Here again is a place where you need to research for your specific stove to know what is optimal. That is still very hot, and children, pets and flammable things should be kept clear.

Oh and one last tip: ALWAYS open the damper before opening the door to your stove. Otherwise smoke (and maybe even fire) will come out into the room!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Our Own Little Historic Home

When we first moved here, we kept meeting people who either used to live in this house or knew someone who did. In a town of 150-odd houses, and a house that is 115 or so years old, I guess that is to be expected.

The best we know, the house was built in about 1895. That was the date on newspapers found on the walls when some renovation was done on the house before we lived here. I need to go to the museum and do a little research to see if they know more. It consisted, originally, of two rooms. It probably had a porch. Standard achitecture for an average home of the day in this country. The original walls are solid plank boards. The living room and original bedrooms still have their wood floors.

We go to church with the people who lived here from 1968 through the 1980s. Carolyn brought me the picture, above, of the house when she first bought it. They later built onto it - first, what is now the laundry room, onto the South side (right side of the photo), where a side porch had been. Then, she and Gerald put in a larger addition onto the North side, adding a dining room, small office, bedroom and new bath (left side of the photo).

We also know someone who lived here during World War II. Rita's family lived in this house when they first moved to Blanket from a farm. It was in 1942, and her father had gotten a job building Camp Bowie in Brownwood. There weren't enough houses and this was the closest he could find to his work. She said she was in high school and did not want to move away from Comanche! She met her future husband while at school in Blanket, and the town became her home.

There were, at the time, only 4 rooms in the house (5 if you count the bathroom). The kitchen, bath and second bedroom had been a separate building that had been moved in and joined to the back of the original house.

Rita said that, due to the housing shortage, her family rented out one of the two bedrooms to a soldier stationed at Camp Bowie and his wife. She said the wife would come out and use the kitchen during odd times and it worked out fine, albeit a bit crowded!

Rita told me they had always used kerosene lamps at the farm and this house had electricity. Her mother hurried to get the power turned on before her father arrived home from work the first day. She said as it got dark, he went to light a lamp and her mother reached up and pulled the string to turn on the single bulb that hung from the kitchen ceiling! What a surprise! It was the first time the family had ever had electric power.

I used to wonder why Mema and Nandy would sit in the twilight of evening until it was very dark before turning the lights on. Now I realize it was because they grew up without electricity, and were accustomed to conserving lamp fuel by not lighting the lamps until it was too dark to see without them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finding An Author

We went to a library sale in Marshall, Texas last year. We would not normally travel so far for one event but we planned other shopping around it and had a nice time. I was disappointed in that we did not get to visit any of the potteries in the area. I hope to be able to go back some time and tour Marshall Pottery and maybe some of the other ones.

We arrived early so I pitched in to help the lady who was setting it up, and it was nice getting to know her. Having finished all of P.D. James, and made a considerable dent in Elizabeth George's catalogue, I needed to line up some new writers for those lovely times when there's enough space in a day or two to enjoy a book of fiction, and I've been on a mystery kick for the past couple of years.

What a lucky day for me, because one of the books was Alexander McCall Smith's "Tears of the Giraffe", second in "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series.

Although I like cozies when it comes to British Television (Midsomer Murders is of course a fave), I am not especially fond of them in book form. Adore Poirot when watching David Suchet, find Dame Agatha's actual writing not my cup of tea. So, I might not have been too excited about a guaranteed cozy titled The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Tears of the Giraffe captured me, and as soon as I had finished it, I went online and bought all the rest of the series.

I don't have much time for fiction, so am still working my way through these lovely, lovely books. I am now on "The Full Cupboard of Life". Like all cozy series, there's repetition. But in this case, the repetition of words, descriptions and elements from one book to the next is an almost poetic device, lulling and comforting and making one believe there is such a beautiful world as the Botswana that Precious Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni inhabit.

Oh the stories are real, and human, and there is plenty of life in the books: adventure, and darkness, and human failings, and old hauntings, and the drama is believable. The solutions aren't predictable, nor sweet, nor even always what one had hoped, but they are such as a good life can accept with hope.

Precious Ramotswe's thinking has a forthright wisdom that one can carry into life after the book. She is a character I shall not soon forget.

I think that the best way to start reading them would be the way I did: with Tears of the Giraffe first, followed by The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency for some necessary background, and then in sequence after that: (3) Morality for Beautiful Girls, (4) The Kalahari Typing School For Men, (5) The Full Cupboard of Life, (6) In The Company Of Cheerful Ladies.

If you read these (or have read them), do pop in and let me know what you think?

Have a wonderful day!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Flea Marketeer Party! Recent Favorite Finds

The Flea Market Style Magazine Blog is hosting an "I'm a Flea Marketeer" party. I am posting a little early since I go to work at 6:30 am. Be sure to see the fun posts from other Friends of Flea Market Style over at their website after you finish reading here. Thanks to them for linking back here too, both on their Friends page and for this party!

Since Paul sells antiques (check out our Ruby Lane Shop linked from the sidebar - he lists new things each week), there's always a good excuse to shop. Selling is fun because there is always something even more wonderful around the corner. But it's even more fun to keep things for a while until (if ever) I am ready to part with them!

Recent keepers include this adorable old German Porcelain Pig milk pitcher, dressed like a Monk with his keys and his cowl. He probably dates from the turn of the last century, 1890s to 1910ish. Why yes, I do have a small collection of figural animal pitchers, and he is my new favorite.

Another collection that kind of crept up on me is World War I and WWII Homefront memorabilia, and other keepsakes from WWI. This candy tin features a portrait of King George V of England, and was made as a Christmas gift in 1914 from the Cadbury company to the wounded soldiers and sailors in hospital. Paul brought it home recently and I batted my eyes until he turned loose of it. Ok maybe that doesn't count as *my* find but it is my keeper! :-)

Our church had a rummage sale last week and I bought an antique "Taylor Storm-O-Guide" Barometer, dated 1927. I have been keeping my eyes open for one since I started getting interested in traditional weather prediction a couple of months ago.

What makes this particular one extra special is that it used to be in my house. The woman who donated it to the rummage sale used to live here and had it during that time (More about the history of our little house in a post later this week).

I bought this English cutting board at Ricochet Antiques, my favorite shop in town. The verse woodburned around the edge is called "The Lancashire Poacher". The little mouse in his hunting gear, with his shotgun and sack is also woodburned. Only three words to decribe it:

Do you have favorite finds you want to share? Come join the party! Post over at Flea Market Style, and do feel free to post your link on Pecan Corner here as well!


While we are reading within the 16th Century, and recognizing that they were people exactly like us, John Donne, 1573-1631, often best known for his "No man is an island" essay that is still taught today, was a preacher, and a poet.

A Hymn to God the Father

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done.
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore:
And, having done that, Thou hast done:
I fear no more.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

How To Make Enchiladas Like Mom Made

Mom (Narcissa Padron etc.) taught me how to make enchaladas. They are not difficult but used to be time consuming. Not so any more, as we now have excellent quality corn tortillas available and can simply warm them on a comal instead of having to fry each for a couple of seconds in lard so they would soften up enough to eat. Alvina told me recently that her mother also used to fry the tortillas, but that she no longer does either. Those old packaged corn tortillas we used to
get were not nearly the quality that we have available now.

Take your favorite brand of corn tortillas (pack of 20) and heat them each on both sides on a hot comal or griddle. Stack and wrap in a towel and set aside.

For beef enchaladas, crumble and thoroughly brown 1 pound of ground beef until it is fully cooked. Season only with salt and finely ground black pepper. Drain and set aside.

Grate colby, longhorn, or mild cheddar cheese. If you want cheese enchaladas, you will need about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cheese per enchalada. If you are making beef ones, the cheese is just for the topping, so grate the amount that suits you. Set aside.

Traditional enchaladas have chopped raw onion in them, both cheese and beef. If you like them this way, chop up some onion and set it aside.

To make the chili gravy (aka enchalada sauce), melt a couple of tablespoons of lard or shortening in a skillet. If you have cooked ground beef, you could use your beef drippings instead.

Add about 3 tablespoons flour to the hot grease and blend well. Get out your whisk and then add 3 cups of water, whisking constantly. You may need to add more water as it cooks to get the consistency right.

Add a little salt, maybe half a teaspoon.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and add your favorite brand of chili powder, again whisking constantly. This is another place where each person has to use their own taste, and amounts may vary depending on the brand you use, as well. I like a lot of chili powder in ours, some
may not want so much. Anywhere from a third to half a bottle of chili powder should be about right.

Gebhardt is the brand I use for this dish (but not for making chili - I use Morton's Chili Blend for that). Other brands are also excellent. I have been trying to remember what brand Mom used, and I can't. Need to ask some of the girls, they will know.

Cook and stir, adding a little more water a little at a time if needed to make a gravy of a thin consistency, then remove from heat.

I use a 9 x 13 baking pan for ours. Grease the pan, then spoon a little of the gravy into it and spread out across the bottom.

Take a corn tortilla in one hand, put a little chili gravy in it, and fill it with a small amount of either cheese or meat, add onions, fold the top over onto the bottom and roll it up. Lay it in the prepared pan.

Make the next one and lay it firmly against the first and so on. They should be packed closely together in the pan.When the pan is full, spoon the chili gravy over all the enchaladas, smoothing it around so that it covers all the tortillas. Sprinkle grated cheese over it all, and more onions if you wish.

Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and they are heated through.

Serve with frijoles refritos, spanish rice and ensalad.

Muy Bueno!

By the way, this same chili gravy is what she used to make Chicken In Red Sauce. Stew a chicken and remove the bones, then add to the chili gravy and heat through. Serve with tortillas!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hoping For A Pecan Crop Today - and 500 Years Ago

I think the earliest mention of Pecans was in The Journey of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, published in Anno Domini 1542 (on pages 78 and 79 of my copy). He talks about a particularly poor tribe of Indians who go each year to a place where there are nuts on which they will live for two months: "Even of that they do not always have, since one year there may be some and the next year not."

This is a true account, written by a shipwrecked Spanish sailor who traversed what is now the Southern United States, including Texas and Mexico, living with many different Indian tribes, and survived to return home to Spain and write his story.

It is a book worth reading - and surprisingly accessible, even easy to read (skip the introduction until after you've read the actual book). Cabeza de Vaca is a sympathetic and likeable hero and his story is a simple and unvarnished telling of what happened. The various descriptions of differing tribes and their highly diverse ways and means of life is worth the 3 or 4 hours it will take to read the book.

It is a book that may change some of your assumptions about a number of things.

You can download it from or from Google for free, don't even need a special "reader". You could even print it out. My copy is a facsimile (true copy) of the 1905 translation by Fanny Bandelier, published by Rio grande Press in 1964.

He also talks extensively about prickly pears: "tuna", and how important they were to some of the tribes as the mainstay of their diet for much of the year.

I picked up pecans yesterday afternoon, getting up the ones that have fallen before mowing for, what I hope will be, the last time this year. We have a Saint Augustine lawn, so it is easy to see them and I can move about on my knees comfortably. Year before last, I gathered nearly 100 pounds from this one tree. Last year, there was no crop at all to speak of. This year looks promising, I picked up maybe five pounds yesterday. This earliest tree is a Native, and its nuts are small, but they are richer, sweeter, with a much higher oil content than cultivated varieties.

I've mentioned that my trees all drop at different times. It also takes a matter of weeks for all the nuts to fall from a single tree, because I do not flail or shake my trees. If you have ever driven in the South and seen signs that say "No Flailing", now you know what not to do! No hitting trees with sticks from the road!

When I was growing up, lots of people picked up pecans as part of their living, and kids all did it to earn spending money. Southern Oklahoma is Pecan country and they grow wild all over. They remain a major crop for the area.

I take my pecans home to get them cracked, since the machines up there are set for small natives. Here, pecans are also a major crop, but the orchards are mostly cultivated and so the machines are set for cracking larger ones. The machines that crack them have to be set just right so as to crack the shell without breaking the kernal.

Once they've been cracked, they need to be picked out and stored. They will keep for a while at room temperature but will eventually turn rancid. For long term storage, Pecans can be vaccuum packed and frozen, and they will keep indefinitely.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Winter Harvest: Fresh Food in the Cold Months

In Texas, and perhaps to a degree in most of the country, food gardening can continue into the winter months. There is always something to be doing when one is raising food. I will be picking up pecans from now through December, as each tree drops them at different times.

I'm not planting a winter garden this year. There just is not time and energy for everything. But the Swiss Chard is holding its own and looking great for winter gathering. That is, the plants
inside the fence are. The ones outside we and the deer take turns with. The plants grow, we gather some, the deer eat the rest. The plants grow back, and so on. Swiss Chard is a biennial so will overwinter and be good for at least two years.

We still have onions that I grew and they are keeping nicely. They get hotter the older they get, but they have good flavor. I left a few in the ground and they just keep sending up green shoots through the winter, so there's a little green to liven things up. I will put out more onion plants in January. We grow what is called "short day" onions here, as they bulb based on the number of daylight hours - and our days are shorter than those up north. I have ordered plants from Dixondale Farms, a Texas company, so that I can get them early. I also buy some from the local produce or feed store when they get them in. That way I am sure they are a variety that will grow well in this country. I only set out the little plants that come in bundles, because the little bulbs never actually make for me.

My tomatoes did poorly and I have no green ones to store. My friend stores them, and she said they kept until February when they used the last of them. She gathers all the green ones right befoer the first frost, wraps each in newspaper, and puts them in a single layer in cola flats, under the bed. She said she just pulls one out and unwraps it when they need a tomato and surprise! Each is red and ripe and (she says) tastes lovely!

Last year we enjoyed turnips, beets and carrots as winter veggies that could be left in the ground and picked before dinner. Some of the turnips got a little woody toward the end of the season, so I will gather earlier when I grow them again. Parsnips would be a super choice for that but I haven't discovered the secret to those yet. Except that the tops do not look like carrot tops! Last batch I planted, I I weeded the patch and only later found out I had pulled up the parsnip seedlings in error. *sigh*

This summer, I planted two kinds of winter squash: acorn and spaghetti. The acorn squash were great fresh but did not keep. Those stored in a dark place turned orange and dried up, those stored in refirgeration developed mold.

The spaghetti squash, though, turned out to be super keepers. I waited until their color had begun to get more yellow and they had a pale spot on the bottom (like watermelons) before picking them. I let them cure by sitting in a basket for a few days then put them in a net bag
and hung them in a dark closet. This was in July I think? Anyway, I cooked one of them last week and it was perfect. As far as I can tell they have all kept beautifully. I saved seed from it. I will definitely grow them again.

As the weather cools down, my peppers are finally behaving and making more peppers. They kind of stalled during the heat. If last year is any indication, I'll be able to gather peppers right up until frost.

I have Saffron Crocus bulbs to set out this week. It will be next fall before I know if they will do well for me, as they bloom in the autumn. I don't really think of them as food, but since I love to have flowers anyway why not have some that will also provide the most expensive spice in the world? :-)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hackberries and Hackberry Firewood

There was a small hackberry scrub tree next to the road where I gathered prickly pears, and I had to eat a couple of the ripe hackberries. Wow that sure took me back to my childhood. They were "the" street tree in my hometown when I was growing up. The boys may remember the trees in front of Amos house, and one in Mema and Nandy's front yard? There also used to be hackberry trees lining 5th Avenue alongside Amos' house and going for blocks. These were all removed when they widened the road when I was about 12 or so.

There are many varieties of Hackberry, ranging from those that get large enough to be stately lining streets, to scrubby wild ones that grow out in West Texas. They are a rather short lived tree, maybe 50 years or so, and their wood is soft.

Birds love the berries, and they are a wonderful source of food for them. For people...not so much. Yes they have a great flavor, but have you ever eaten one? Imagine a BB (like you shoot from a bb gun), coated with apple peeling. That's it. The little bit of skin is the only thing edible - the inside is an indigestible hard ball. But that little bit of skin tastes just as good and sweet as apple peeling.

Because the berries are small and have no juice, they are not messy, thus their use as street trees.

People here tell me they use hackberry wood in the early part of the winter or spring when they only need a quick warm up to the house. It burns fast and takes the chill off on those cool mornings when you won't need a fire later in the day. I haven't had any of it, so I can't speak from experience yet. If I get the chance to get some from tree trimmers this year, I will try it.

UPDATE Aug 8, 2013: Winter before last, we discovered that some of our firewood was hackberry. How did we find out? Our neighbor came to beg us not to burn that wood any more because it stinks! Our stove is enclosed so we don't smell the wood, but one low pressure day had driven the smoke a block over to their house. When we smelled it we agreed it smells horrible! I am so grateful that she was willing to tell us about it. We threw away the rest of that and changed our source of wood. So nope, I can't recommend hackberry as a source for heat if you live anywhere near humans. :-(

Sunday, October 11, 2009

For The Life Of The World

Here is another antique Sunday School card, showing the Manna that God sent to feed the Hebrews during their exodus out of slavery in Egypt.

The associated Bible reading is Exodus 16:1-15. God sent them Manna in the mornings and Quail in the evenings that they could gather each day for their "daily bread and meat". Except on Fridays, when twice as much fell, so that they could gather enough for the Sabbath too and not have to work on the Sabbath.

The Golden Text of the day is the words of Our Lord Jesus as recorded in John 6:51:

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.“

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Living Life by a Vintage Calendar

I didn't know until a few years ago when I was printing a calendar page for a letterpress bundle, but there are only 14 different calendar grids. There is a great website called the Virtual Perpetual Calendar where you can look up which years are the same (click on the "Year Correlations" link).

In addition to going back as far as 1901, the year correlations are also posted for the next hundred years in the future, so if you want to make your own calendars it would also be a super resource.

Since then, I make a point to find an old calendar each year to use. I hang it in my laundry room, and it is kind of a whisper of perspective to the days: "the more things change, the more they stay the same".

This year's calendar is from 1959, and has an article about organizing the kitchen to make it easier to get brown bag lunches in the mornings. Some of the holidays are the same, but those determined by astronomical events such as phases of the moon are not, as the lunar calendar is not the same as the solar one. Some vintage calendars, like this one, also contain a lot of historical dates that aren't usually on today's calendars.

For next year, I've already bought the one I want to use. It is a 1937 advertising calendar hand-painted on a bamboo mat, made in Japan before WWII. The little calendar pad was intended to have each month torn away as it passed. To avoid that, I will find a bobby pin to clip
it up with.

Here are the calendars that correspond with 2010:
1999, 1993, 1982, 1971, 1965, 1954, 1943, 1937, 1926, 1915, 1909

While some vintage calendars can be expensive, there are so many different kinds that can still be had for a couple of dollars, especially the almanac type that drug stores still give out each year.

And that's another option, too: a current calendar put out by your pharmacy. I think the Cardui/Black Drought is still used by a lot of them.

The hunt is half the fun, so pick your favorite era and see what you find!

Update 12/31/09 for those who may be visiting from a link to the post found on Leslie's blog:
here's the latest about vintage calendars: Happy (Old) New Year! And thanks for stopping by, and I hope you'll come back again.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting Rid of Pests in a House: Caulk, Seal, Clean, Repeat

It is that time of year again. As cool weather approaches, small creatures of many types look for warm places to spend the winter. Those of us who live in old houses need to prepare right now to make our homes inhospitable to the critters. I'm not a professional at repairs or exterminating, so all this is just what I do for my home. Check with the pros to get real advice.

Regular exterminating is an important part of home upkeep. And regular cleanliness we all know is essential to preventing pests. But like Nicolas said, stopping things from getting in in the first place is the most important strategy. Even the cleanest old houses have all sorts of hidden entry ways! And these issues can occur even in a brand new house, or in apartments.

It can be difficult to find experienced people willing to do repair work, even if one can afford it. And even if one plans to repair it correctly later, immediate action is imperative in my book.

It requires vigilance, but most especially it requires sealing the house from the outside in - especially around the bottom. It requires keeping things dry. The thing that has to happen is to seal the lower part of the house as though you were trying to make it water-tight. This means no little gaps.

It took me a while to get the hang of using a caulk gun, but I am the Queen of Caulk now. Once I figured out to hit that little lever on the back every time I paused for even a few seconds, it made a world of difference. I buy plain white cheap caulk by the contractor's boxful. I put on vinyl gloves and use my finger to smooth out the bead and make sure the seal is complete, and I keep a wet cloth to wipe my hands on.

Put a nail in the tip when you are finished for the day and the caulk will keep until the next time you find a spot that needs it. So caulking can be a do-it-when-you-see-it kind of task. See a gap? Caulk it now! Did an ant just escape into that little crack? Caulk it now!

One of the most important places to caulk on the inside that I never would have thought of is the baseboards. They actually cover seams in the floor or foundation that can be entry points. So seal them - bottom and top of them, all the way around the room and under the cabinets and behind the stove and fridge and around every corner - seal every micrometer of every
room. I caulk any place there is the least bit of a crevasse or where any two surfaces come together.

Use caulk to seal around all the window frames and door frames inside where they meet the wall and the floor, and outside where they meet the house siding. Pay special attention to the tops and bottoms of the frames and sills.

Install real weatherstripping for old doors - the kind that has to be screwed on, not that stick-on stuff. It will not only keep the cold out but will keep bugs out too.

I used Wood filler around and under the threshholds of old doors, which often have unnoticed gaps around them that the little mousies love to use. Once large gaps were filled, I used caulk to complete the seal.

I also make great use of "Great Stuff" Foam. It is sticky, will expand to fill spaces too big for my caulk to fill, and it is easily removed if you need to take it out. Read the directions before using and do not touch this stuff while it is wet! You can use it around where pipes come into the house, etc. Once it has gotten hard, you can cut off excess with a knife to make a flat surface. This is pricey and once you start using a can, anything left in it won't save over because the nozzle clogs, so I keep an ongoing list of "Places To Foam", then put on my gloves and do them all at once. It is worth every penny.

Check the bottom perimeter outside the house, where the walls meet the foundation, and make sure the siding there is in good shape. If it isn't try to get at least that bottom piece replaced with solid new hardiboard even if you can't do the whole thing. If you can't do that, it might help to use a trowel with spackle or plaster to fill and seal it, then paint it to keep it dry until you can fix it properly. That will help keep mice from getting in through dryrotted siding.

If you are on a pier-and-beam foundation, seal entry to under the house with screen, hardyboard or bricks to prevent small animals from being able to get under the house. Of course, make sure nothing is under there first!

Check the eaves and attic vents and cover them with screen to keep squirrels, bats and birds from being able to get in, while still maintaining essential ventilation for the house.

Foundation plantings and permanent mulches in flowerbeds provide habitat for little bugs. Avoid these near the house if you can do so. If you need these landscape elements for appearance sake, try to at least keep the back of the plants trimmed away from the sides of the
house so they won't create a bridge insects can walk over, and so you can get behind them to spray. And this is the time of year to stir or put insecticide in the mulch so nothing can overwinter in it.

We don't have any babies or little children in the family, so I keep a good quality home insect killer that has residual action and spray inside and out every 2 to 3 months. I also use a granular insecticide that has to be watered in around the exterior perimeter each quarter (I do it right before it rains). They tell me that Orange Peel Oil is a good natural insect killer but I have not tried it yet.

I keep Decon in any place that used to get mice before we were able to get their long-term entry points sealed up (there was actually a trail thru the insulation in one wall where generations of mice had made a tradition of coming in for the winter. They won't any longer!). I know, but I've tried traps in the past and they don't do the job well enough. Decon works.

These are things you can do yourself. We also use professional exterminators for bugs inside and out. Most recently, ours have been local companies that are licensed but not franchised. On the coast, Walter Dowell did our house. He was 87 years old when he passed away from a sudden heart attack. He had visited us for our regular spraying a month earlier.

Check your yellow pages and get estimates from several. They all charge more for the first treatment than for successive ones, but there can be a huge difference in price, so it pays to check around. While they are there, ask them to let you know if they notice any particular areas that could use attention in the prevention department.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vintage Sunday School Card: Paul the Tentmaker

This is a vintage Sunday School card, copyrighted in 1897, picturing Paul sewing a tent at the end of his second missionary journey. He was a tent-maker by trade and worked at this when he was not traveling. The reading of the week was Acts 18:1-22.

The Bible Verse of the Day, or "Golden Text" as it is referred to, is in Jesus own words:
"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

These cards were given, one each week, to children who came to Sunday School. Kids collected them and traded them and tried to get a full collection of them. These that I have are printed by a technique called "chromolithograph" which gives them beautiful rich color.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Autumn Decorating, Letters from Home, and Vintage Postcards

Today the Harvest Moon is full. Be sure to step outside your door and enjoy the beautiful sight of it rising over the next couple of days. It will rise tonight at 6:47 pm Central Time here, and, at 7:18 tomorrow night - so figure about half an hour later each night. You can find the moonrise times for your location from the link at the Farmer's Almanac, or from the links at Calculator Cat's Moon Phase site, pictured in my sidebar.

I had saved my corn stalks in hope of using them for harvest decorating in the yard. Alas, they did not hold up well enough to look good, so I made do with my little cane poles from the climbing beans.

Last year, I bought what I thought were bales of straw to decorate with, thinking to use them later as mulch. Turned out they were baled oats... so I had to pull "wild oats" out of the saint augustine grass all summer AND had to find someone to give the bales to. Our friend who goes to church with us and drives the garbage truck took them to his goats!

The crow scarecrow is so fun, and Mama gave me the "real" looking crow. A coworker gave me pumpkins he had raised, and some of those fruits are my own acorn squash. I grew acorn and spaghetti squash this year and dutifully cured them then stored in mesh bags in a dark closet. The acorn squash turned orange and dried out! Guess next year we'll eat them as they ripen.

The spaghetti squash still feel heavy, I plan to cook one this week and we will see if they kept well. But the dried acorn squash make for nice decorations in Thelma's wooden bowl.

This postcard came from Mama today. Isn't it great? She is the World's Best Letter Writer, and has taken to sending me vintage postcards. I save all of her letters in a file box and if she never writes her memoirs, the great great grands-yet-to-come in the far off future will have all these marvelous letters through which to get to know Amos, if they are not fortunate enough to know her in person.

It is such a fun idea, too, to send vintage postcards. They don't require much time to jot a few lines and cost only 28 cents to mail. Use a vintage (but previously unused) stamp, or the cute polar bear one that is out now, and it's a perfect little component of vintage living that we can add to our routine. And oh so much dearer than email: a keepsake from now on.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Magnificent Ruin in the South Carolina Wildwoods

When I went to South Carolina this summer to see Ethan and Valerie, they took me to the ruins of Old Sheldon Prince William's Parish Church, near Beaufort. The plaque at the entrance reads:

Ruins of Old Sheldon Prince William's Parish Church
Built 1745-55. Burned 1779 by British. Rebuilt 1826.
Burned 1865 by Federal Army. Named for ancestral home
of the Bull family in Warwickshire, England.
Annual Services Second Sunday after Easter

Despite being burned by two armies, the red brick ruins remain solid, the church remains a place of Christian worship, and the chairs were in place for an upcoming service the day we were there.

This old hand pump draws water from the well.

The churchyard graves reflect the history of the people who worshiped here, their losses, their honor, their endurance. This gravestone reads:

George Chisolm Mackay
Born Oct 8, 1803 Died Oct 28 1864
And His Sons
Edward Robert
Born Jan 24, 1830 Drowned Feb 9 1868
George Chisolm Jr
Born Dec 20 1835 Killed in battle
May 12 1864

A pink fairy rose bush cascades over a more recent, but still old, set of family gravestones.

When these trees were injured or became hollow, they were saved by filling the cavities with cement, just as a tooth is filled.

The tree surgeon who did the work had a fine aesthetic sense, and patterned the cement like brick. Isn't it beautiful?

The altar, also made of brick masonry like the outer walls and columns of the building, survived the fire and the ages. It is seen here toward the left of the photo inside the remaining walls, while just outside in the shade of a tree is a tomb of similar size and shape.

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.
Faith of Our Fathers, by Frederick W. Faber, 1849


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