Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lots of random stuff

Happy Halloween! The little one is going to be some sort of vampire princess - the costume is pretty ornate and the natural fangs (since the top two teeth are missing) complete the look. It'th juth tho cute!!! (that's the missing front teeth lisp)

Today, it snowed all day! The fall scene looks a little odd dotted with the large flakes of snow. My husband said it was being called "The Rare October Snow". Wonder which creative genius coined that?

I must thank all those who commented about Scamp in my last post. It was a really stressful and emotional week. This is Scamp above, bored out of his freaking sweet and gentle mind during this 2 week period of crate confinement. I've been waxing poetic (and melodramatic) in a journal about this whole thing so I'll spare the readers of this public blog, but if anyone happens upon this, is going through it, and would like to e-mail me for more of my/Scamp's personal story, please feel free. But for the rest of the garden readers here, I'll just say it's been a difficult time, but we're feeling optimistic after seeing his tail wag ever so slightly yesterday. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure I saw him pick up and move one of his back legs ever so slightly as well. We're now about 11 days post-op. Anyway, your comments have meant a lot and have been reassuring and so helpful!!! Thank you!!!!! :)

For my husband, the month of October becomes "Shocktober". He spends all his spare time watching horror (many b-rated) and other Halloween themed movies. He noticed that in this scene from Attack of the Giant Leeches, the main character was apparently getting his spring seed order together!!! See the seed catalog on the table?

This photo was taken of Scamp the (hot) dog during one of the 4 days we spent with him before he ruptured a disk. The costume was so much cuter on the slimmer dog on the website. So it's the same story for the canine world, huh.

Since I basically do not cook anymore due to my schedule and recent stress, my husband's little concoction is this week's Garden to Table Challenge entry. These jalapenos are stuffed with a combination of different fillings - garlic, garlic/blue cheese, blue cheese/cream cheese, and other combinations of the three ingredients. These were then stuck on a skewer and grilled. He and his friend Walter sure had a good time trying each combo. I personally made sure he kept his distance until we got a fresh bottle of Listerine. Anyone still harvesting out there? In what ways are you using your harvests? Link below and tell about it!

Finally, my friend Grace sent this lovely short video of blooms opening set to music. You may have seen something like this, but it's always nice to watch again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Dog Scamp - a long story of a short week of a bumpy emotional roller coaster

Exactly a week ago, we were anxiously waiting for 1pm to arrive on Saturday. It was at that time that if all went well, we would be able to adopt Champ from a rescue. We adored him from the moment we saw his two photos on the website - in one, he's upside down, smiling (no, really!), and in another photo, he's joyful in someone's arms. There are so many awesome qualities about this dog and when as we took him home, we decided to name him Scamp - close enough to the name the rescue had given him but with our own family's spin on it.

Though I have pets, I'm not an animal lover. In fact, I'm really more of an animal disliker (hater is too strong of a word). This dog has changed me. Now when I see a person walking a dog, I pay no attention to the human, but only the dog. I want to get down and ruffle the ears of every dog I see in Petco. I want to get one of those dog paw magnets for my car. I want a keychain that says "I love my beagle". I want to go to the dog park. And guess what? I even bought a halloween costume for Scamp.

After just a few days of bringing a dog into your home:
  • You learn that he likes to drink a few sips of water before starting on the food.
  • You know the treats make him crazy happy.
  • The family settles into a routine of letting the dog out, going on walks, and feeding the dog.
  • You learn that he likes to walk to the left side of you.
  • You are accustomed to hearing little footsteps on the hardwood floor.
  • At the end of your work day, you wish you could teleport home to see the dog.
  • You open the front door and there sits the happiest living being to see you (a banging of happily wagging tail against the wall).
On Wednesday, 4 days after we adopted Scamp, I got home and noticed his back legs were sort of wobbly - and he was dragging one back leg a little bit. I called the vet suspecting that maybe he was having a reaction to the lyme vaccine he'd received the day before. She did an exam and some x-rays, and suspected it might be a ruptured disk that couldn't necessarily be seen on an x-ray. We got a steroid shot just in case it was a lyme vaccine reaction, but she was really leaning towards something else. She suggested keeping him there overnight in a "quiet place", but I insisted that I'd take him home and promised to keep things quiet. By the time I got home and carried him in to the living room, his back legs were completely paralyzed and he was dragging himself across the floor. There was something so completely grotesque, and horrendously sad about that sight and the only reason I kept from bursting into tears was that I was trying to stay composed for my 13 year old kid in the room. I called the vet who told me to go to the animal hospital.

The animal hospital is amazing. The immediate care and compassion you get there is better than the care and compassion you'd get at any human facility. The ER vet did several tests and drew me several pictures and proposed several possibilities. She leaned towards a ruptured disk. So here's what happens, the disks start degrading at age 12 months for these low and long dogs. Any little tweak - jumping off a couch, going down the stairs, can rupture a disk. The disk stuff gets pushed up and pushes against the spinal cord, rendering the animal at least temporarily paralyzed. An MRI or CT scan, and then back surgery can possibly fix the problem. She told us that there was a very narrow window of opportunity to perform the surgery or else he would become totally paralyzed. Scamp went from wobbly to paralyzed in about an hour, so we definitely needed to act quickly. In Scamp's case, we were given a 50-70% chance of being able to walk again. Of course we'd do surgery. We love this dog, I told her through tears.

The vet told us that surgery would cost 6,000-8,000 dollars. This is when I called my husband an had a lengthy and tearful conversation about all implications ethical, moral, financial. We've only had this dog for 4 days. But we love this dog and he's a member of our family. It doesn't matter if it's been 4 days or 4 years. We can still give the dog back. The rescue gives a 20 day window, and they have other "special needs" dogs. But you don't adopt a dog and then give it back. But we don't have any money! But is it worth it to take a loan? He is considered a member of our family, and you don't throw away a 50-70% chance of walking. But the x-rays showed he has a large heart (but no murmur). What if he has a heart condition and we spend 8,000 and he has a heart attack next month. But then again, you never know what will happen in life and this little dog has brought us so much joy, and he is the absolutely sweetest dog. He doesn't deserve to be paralyzed and then possibly put down just because of money. But how stupid are we to take out a loan for 8,000 for an animal?! But do we really consider animals throw aways? Scamp is so perfect but maybe he's really a dime a dozen? But could we just say forget it and then adopt another dog and feel good about that? But the vet said about 10% of dogs who rupture a disk will rupture another one, and we've just paid off debt that we've been carrying for 15 years! But what if we do the surgery and he's still paralyzed? We adopted a dog for the kids to grow up with - not to enjoy for 4 days before taking on this huge burden of a paralyzed dog with a possible heart issue who cannot control his bodily functions. And Scamp is in the back room paralyzed while the clock is ticking, and I'm sobbing on the phone, completely unable to make a decision.

We spent probably 30 minutes on the phone flip-flipping, being realistic and logical, and trying to be responsible adults - there is simply no way we should even be entertaining the idea of doing this surgery while we're just breaking even every month. We have kids and no savings or emergency fund. But in the end, we both decided that there was only one decision that we felt would be the right thing to do, and that was to take out the loan and do the surgery. This would be the only option that would allow us to sleep at night, to feel like we've fulfilled our responsibilities to Scamp when we took him home.

The vet neurologist performed the surgery that night and said the rupture was big (whatever that means) but that the spinal cord looked good (whatever that means). He increased the prognosis to an 85-90% chance that Scamp would walk. However, the recovery will be a long process. He will have to be cage confined for 2 weeks and it typically takes several weeks before he may start walking. During that time, he'll be on wee wee pads because he won't be able to control the peeing and pooping (the animal disliker in me used to scoff at the wee wee pads when I saw them on the shelves. Now I know one reason why people buy them). There are all kinds of therapies available (we saw a dog doing hydrotherapy today - with a life vest on and swimming in the water to gain strength), but I'm pretty sure the vet neurologist said that wouldn't be necessary for Scamp.

I've been a blubbering mess for the past couple of days. Yesterday I cried almost all day. I was trying to determine if it was a hormonal thing, but no, definitely not. There are two main reasons why I'm so sad about it. I'm really sad to think about how incredibly sweet and innocent this particular dog is, and sad because he doesn't deserve all this shit. Another thing that makes me ridiculously sad is to think about all this approximately 6 year old dog has been through. Where's he been? Who has cared for him or lost him or abused him? He was with a foster, Earl, for about a month. Earl really loved him, and then we took him away from Earl. The first two nights with us, he chose to sleep on the first floor on the futon. The third night, my husband carried him up to the dog bed in the girls' room. Funny because he stayed there for a long while but went back down to the futon in the middle of the night. The fourth night, he started off on the futon (we figured that would just be his place, so we left him), but in the middle of the night, he decided to come up and slept on the floor of our bedroom. It felt like he was finally settling in and realizing we were his new family. And now he's in a kennel. We've tried to visit him twice a day since he's been there so that he knows he hasn't just been dumped again. Though he's been a little dazed and confused from the drugs, and though he can't yet move his legs and wag his tail, I'm sure he knows it's us, his new family, visiting.

Tomorrow we bring him home. I've turned a corner and finally stopped crying (well, crying all the time - but typing this has obviously brought up a lot of emotion again). I fixed up a borrowed crate, lined it with a dog bed covered in trash bags, put blankets around each edge, and hung pictures that my 6 year old made for Scamp in the corner walls of the kitchen where he'll spend his time recovering. I feel more optimistic after setting up the area, but I'm really scared - scared about how to get him out of the crate, scared that we'll hurt him accidentally (he has a quite large incision down his back), scared that he won't walk again, scared of what kind of decision we'll have to make if this is the case, scared that he'll recover but then rupture another disk, scared of the stairs and the height of the futon, scared that he'll keel over and die from a heart attack, geez there are a lot of fears. I guess starting tomorrow, we'll just have to take it one day at a time.

One thing that helped me feel better (though it's sort of sad that it has to be), was to hear other stories about pets getting really sick or injured and then getting better - especially recovering from a ruptured disk. In the past few days, I learned the vet tech's dog had 2 surgeries for this, my daughter's piano teacher's dachshund had this back surgery, and the dog of a woman in the waiting room of the animal hospital had the surgery twice. This woman had her other dog there for cancer treatment. I felt bad because when I started talking to her (and was crying), she started crying too. We were like crazy people. I told her about the money dilemma and she said she understood and that people think we're crazy, but it doesn't matter.

Anyway, I'm labeling this "completely unrelated" because I don't often diverge from gardening topics, but if you have a positive story to share about a pet, or if you have experienced this and have advice about the recovery, I would love to hear it - it really helps!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Left Fork Farm - ginseng and other herbs

Last week, I got to tour this lovely piece of land that Left Fork Farm owners Emil and Eva call "a paradise in the hills of West Virginia". On this farm, the earthy retired-from-government-jobs couple grow lots of "seng" in addition to many other medicinal herb plants. I shouldn't tell you where to set your Garmins though because one thing I learned is that ginseng, also known as "forest gold", is susceptible to theft, being such a valuable crop. But, despite the high price that roots may fetch, it's sort of complicated. Some other facts I learned...

  • Ginseng is picky about growing conditions. Mostly shaded mountain land is best.
  • Ginseng is a tonic and adaptogen. See here for more about health benefits.
  • Ginseng needs to be "hunted". Look for indicator plants such as ferns, to help guide you to areas where ginseng may thrive.
  • You need a permit to dig. Theft is the number 1 problem for big growers. Ginseng must be sold to buyers, who will ask for paperwork proving where the roots were harvested. If roots are stolen, growers will inform buyers who will keep an eye out for the stolen roots.
  • The couple sum up the process of growing successfully in a few steps:
  1. Find the right land.
  2. Plant 6,000 seeds the first year.
  3. Wait 7-10 years.
In other words, it's not easy! While Eva and Emil wait years for a significant root harvest, they stay busy in other ways: harvesting berries for juice, which yields a high price; harvesting mature roots and leaves to make tinctures for sale. Eva's ginseng tincture was a popular item for those on our tour. Of course, the couple seems to have found a use for everything growing on their farm...

This was a stream that our bus had to cross in order to get to this middle-of-nowhere property!

Can you imagine if this were your backyard?!

The vegetable garden and a gigantic patch of holy basil. At the end of our tour, we got to have some cookies and Eva's holy basil tea. It was interesting and quite good - sort of cinnamony, but with a very different aftertaste.

Above and below: this is the black walnut operation. The couple has been collecting black walnuts...

The black walnuts are opened with a corn husker. The nuts are washed and sold in portions as you see below. They also crack the nuts and sell the fresh walnut meat to area restaurants. The outer green rind of the black walnut is made into a tincture that is given to dogs as a dewormer!

Herbs drying in the drying house...

The process of making Eva's concoctions...

Ready for sale!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

GTTC: kabocha pie ice cream

Like pumpkin? You'll love kabocha. This Japanese pumpkin is a bit sweeter than its Western counterpart and is perfect in any dish that calls for pumpkin or even butternut squash. The ice cream I made above is made from roasted kabocha and is spiced with a generous sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon. Perfect for these last warm days of summer when you want something refreshing, but know that fall (and the season's culinary cravings) is in the air.

Want to share what you've been harvesting/cooking? Post about it and add your link here. I have faithfully posted every week all season but this post will serve as my Garden to Table Challenge post for the next two weeks. More details soon on the fun I'll be having...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nasty mushrooms and other random (lovelier) photos

Above: just a pretty scene from the circle in front of my parents' house. Below: my husband was giddy with excitement to squeeze these mushrooms expecting to show our kids a little puff of mushroom powder. Instead, he got squirted with mushroom goo.

Above: the little 4x4 garden I built this summer (whose purpose I will share at a later date). Below: anti-grass lawn enthusiasts would be pleased with my lawn of creeping Charlie. Seriously, my "lawn" really bugs me (a lot), but on this day, it took on a sort of magical look. And speaking of magical looks, the scene from the pond in front of my parents' house looks quite pretty, don't you think?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

GTTC: habanero pepper jelly

This week the habaneros were all sorts of green, yellow, orange, and red. The pepper jelly I made is so yummy (spicy, sweet, tart) and incredibly delicious with some brie and crackers. (I and) People I've shared with love it so much that I've taken the original Ball Habanero Gold recipe, modified it somewhat, and quadrupled it.

  1. In a large pot, soak 1 1/3 cups of thinly sliced dried apricots in 3 cups white vinegar for 4 hours or overnight at room temperature.
  2. Seed peppers. Finely chop to measure: 1 cup red pepper, 1 cup red onion, 1/2 cup habanero pepper, 1/2 cup jalapeno
  3. Stir 12 cups sugar into vinegar and apricots. Add peppers and onions and while stirring constantly over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.
  4. Add 4 pouches liquid pectin and continue to boil for another minute, stirring constantly.
  5. Quickly skim off foam.
  6. Fill jars to 1/4" from the top.
  7. Process for 10 minutes and remove from water to cool.
Makes about nine 8 ounce jars or what you see below. The little jars are 4 ounces.

And as an added bonus to unwind after the morning of cutting, cooking, and canning, I made myself a nice stiff drink. See, I started off by chopping the apricots instead of slicing them like I was supposed to. My first thought was to make cookies, but I decided to not sabotage my week of relatively low-fat eating. Instead, I soaked the apricots in gin overnight. The next day, the strained gin made a great gin & tonic. Cheers!

What's going on in your kitchen and garden? Post and add your link below - we'd really like to know!

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