Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Cold World

 The furnace already works overtime. When I walk outside I glance at the heat pump, feathered with frost and watch until the defroster kicks in and great loads of steam rise in the sun. The compressor drips, then runs in a stream, the condensate refreezing beneath it on the cold earth.
 This morning, as we bottomed out at 25°, an early snowstorm slides up the east coast, dropping nearly 20" in spots. It is a cruel harbinger of winter, still seven weeks away. This is the weekend of Halloween, kids in costumes, broken pumpkins scattered about. It should be pleasant still.

 But when I begin my walk in Sam's lane, this is what I find. Sycamore leaves, newly frozen in the nighttime air lay scattered across the driveway and crunch underfoot, their ribs etched in ice. The sun shines ... that's all I can say of the promise of warmth. It is bitterly cold, though calm.
 I look upon the house roof as I begin my trek and see where the chimney once stood. When our roof was replaced many years ago, the old furnace was removed, the roof covered with new particleboard, tar paper spread out and shingles laid upon that. Still, beneath the new roof the old chimney still belches heat ... just enough that the frost is melted in a dark rectangle that betrays its former location. The fireplace chimney, still there, slants a shadow across the roof and the risen sun melts a line across the roof. Likewise the second floor bath vent is dark and wet.

 That thin lane I walk, threading between open fields, is surely the coldest spot around. Without any cover, open in every direction, it is where the temperatures first plummet. This weed, still holding its flower head erect, is covered in feathery ice. The field which lies beyond is now crunchy stubble, whitewashed overnight. The sky is a thin blue, wrung out by the clear, cold.

 Another weed, still holding some of summer's yellow, is frozen solid.

 This Queen Anne's Lace is finished for the season, its flower long-faded, its seeds already scattered. While it is now a stark scene, it was prepared for this night. Its work is long done.

 Looking like some giant spider, this Queen Anne's Lace seems to be grasping with outstretched fingers. Each line of its stalk is etched with frost.

 And yet a last flower head seems closed up, clenched tight by the lateness of the season.
 For myself, the morning walk always begins cold but as the miles unwind, I never fail to become too warm. First I unzip my coat, hoping for a little moist heat escaping. Then I pull off my stocking cap and eventually fold down my hood. I drop my pace until I cool and then step briskly again. I think of those who live in the northeast, powerless (two million have lost power due to the snow on the still-leaved trees) and know they won't have the luxury of my sunny walk.
 The sun shines brightly. The jet contrails scatter and expand. The shadows of trees and the power poles shorten as the sun rises and slides south. In Farmersville, at least, an afternoon high above 50° is promised. But it is the icy morning that brings me to life again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Foggiest Notion

 This morning Mom woke me at about 6:50 a.m. though I was already lying in bed awake. We were to meet Bob at Miss Molly's Bakery & Cafe at 8 a.m. so we'd have time for him to come back to the house and help me clean leaves out of the rain gutters.
 The fiberglass ladder I bought some years back, because it is long enough to reach, is also heavy enough that I can't move it. Bob can. The two of us always work together, carrying it to the house, getting it vertical and then walking it around the house as I clean out the gutters.
 This year we are late but I've had a good reason for waiting: the leaves are late in falling from the trees.

 Anyway, that said to explain why I was up early, I walked to the window at the head of my bed and looked across the dark field. All was black. But looking south, toward the nearest neighbors, I saw that a heavy fog had moved in overnight. It was an icy fog, in fact, and it stuck to the weeds in the 27° air.
 Before we left for breakfast, and after I had finished a few chores outside (taking out the daily trash, dumping the compost refuse in the garden), I took a few minutes to take a couple of pictures. It was a surreal morning, still dark at 7:30 a.m. and so cold that it clawed its way into my buttoned coat. Still, I cannot pass up the chance for a few pictures.

 In the early morning light, Pinehaven looks as though it's ready for Halloween two days early. The light on the right is Mom's living room light, beside her chair; the security light on the left is on the garage, triggered as I walked by. Pinehaven is enshrouded in fog, still asleep it would seem. It sits below grasping catalpa limbs, now winter-bare. I would expect ghosts there and, in fact, we have our own "The Milkman" who threads our steps at night. The setting is fitting and proper for such as he.

 Looking south, our next door neighbor's security lights blaze and to the left of Clayton Road, a farm is lit by three lights. We opted to not have always-on security lights. I like better the dark and appreciate a black night sky for my astronomical viewing.
 As Mom and I left soon thereafter to meet Bob, we found the fog wholly absent from the village. A mile west of here was all we had to travel and the sky suddenly cleared. That "patchy dense fog" that the weather service predicted seemed to pick us out.
 I was happy that I was up early enough to see it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Bread of Life

 I like nothing more than to smell bread baking. A homemade loaf of basic white can't be beat, though we never fail to "doctor" it a little with whatever we have handy. Often that means sunflower seeds.

 Our bread is a cross between time-honored traditions and modern technology: collecting all of the basic ingredients, kneading dough by hand, coaxing it to rise and then baking it in an oven. I'll admit right off that we use a bread machine to make the dough.
 When the dough is finished we take it out of the machine, place it on a floured cloth and knead it a bit by hand. Then we manually place the loaf into a standard baking pan, let it rise for 45 minutes in a warm oven (there's no other warm place in the house) and then bake it the traditional way. In this way, we produce a great loaf of classic white bread but with some of the work removed.

Basic White Bread (one loaf)

3/4 cups water
2 cups white flour
1 tablespoon dry milk
1-1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon margarine
1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

 We combine these ingredients and let the bread machine turn it into dough. When it's finished we work it on a floured pastry cloth briefly, form it into a loaf and place it in a loaf pan. We let this rise for about 45 minutes in a warm oven (about 100°). While it's rising, we cover it with a light cloth.
 When the loaf is risen, we remove it from the oven and hold it on the counter while we heat the oven to 350°. Baking time is 30 minutes.
 The loaf is wonderful with a handful of sunflower seeds. As you can see in the first photo, we added some to the top. But because we didn't stick them there with an egg wash, they fell off when we took the loaf out of the oven. Better to just add the sunflower seeds to the initial ingredients and have them all safely inside the loaf.

 This makes a nicely textured loaf of white bread, as basic a recipe as you'll find. Besides the enjoyment of eating the finished product, there's the unmistakable smell of yeast and fresh-baked bread permeating the house for some hours.
 What could be better on a pleasant fall day than the smell of fresh-baked bread. Add a pat of butter to a slice, pour a cup of coffee and prepare to visit heaven.

Below Freezing

 Whether it is expected or not, the first night below freezing takes something of an attitude adjustment. When I went to bed last evening the temperature had already dipped into the upper 30's and there was little doubt that we'd have frost by morning. It was also likely that we'd dip below freezing.
 As the sun broke the horizon, just before 8 a.m., I saw that the yard had a white cast and I knew that we had a heavy frost. In fact, I recorded a low of 28.8°.
 My "proof" of frost is our burn barrel, a 55 gallon oil drum at the edge of our garden. I can walk out with the days kitchen scraps, toss them into the compost hole and look for frost all at the same time. But today there was no doubt. The garden itself was white.

 These sunflowers, whose season has passed, lie on the soil where I dropped them some weeks ago. I take the heavy stalks and carry them  to the meadow to decay; they are too tough for compost. But I leave the tender tops - and the flowers heads themselves to re-seed next year's crop - atop the soil. This morning they were fringed with white.

 This cap on the burn barrel seems to have grown hoary ears as the moisture in the air has attached itself to the frigid metal surface. Frost cannot hide from me here. When I have trouble distinguishing it in the long grass, I know the metal barrel will turn traitor and reveal the hiding frost. But this morning the ground was starkly white ... beyond white ... even frozen.

 And yet as the sun rose, the eastern sky took on a rosy glow and the whole atmosphere seemed to suddenly warm. I walked around the house to the maple and saw the first rays of sunshine play upon the autumn leaves. By moving my own position and placing the sun behind a hanging birdhouse, I could photograph a hanging branch of fiery maple leaves without the harsh sun spoiling the view. The leaves seem to shine under their own power. In truth, the tree is almost bare. Next weekend I will clean the rain gutters and will not have to be bothered with them filling up again.
 So the 2011 growing season comes to a close. There is no doubt about when the  grass crunches beneath the foot and the still-tender greenery hangs limp.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Apricot Wine

 Mom called. "Can you help me a little bit?" she asked. It's a cold, October evening ... a light drizzle is falling as I walk downstairs to see what she's up to. She's decided to make apricot wine.
 I remember when she first made apricot wine - about 1960 - and how she used an old crock to make it in. She added all the ingredients in our kitchen and then we carried the crock downstairs. It had a close fitting lid, not enough to trap any escaping gases but tight enough to keep any dust out.
 A few days after she gathered the ingredients and started the wine, we were enthralled by the bubbling liquid. I don't know how many times I'd walk down the steps to hear it bubbling away.
 Every other day she'd ask me to walk to the basement with her and she'd lift the lid and stir the liquid with a wooden spoon. I remember how intoxicating the smell, how delicious it all seemed to be making alcohol in our own basement.

 Though it might look like she's making lemonade, it's going to be one powerful concoction in another month. By the way, she's using an old Pennsylvania Dutch recipe:

Apricot Wine

1 lb. dried apricots
4 qts. warm water
1/2 cake yeast
6-1/2 cups white sugar
2-1/4 cups brown sugar
1-1/2 cups raisins
2 lemons, thinly sliced
2 oranges, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon ginger root, cut into pieces

 We've modified this basic recipe to suit our space and taste. First, we've cut it in half. In with the raisins we've also included dried cranberries and dried blueberries. And, instead of ginger root, which we don't have, we sprinkled in a dash of ground ginger.
 I also used active dry yeast (we never buy the cakes). I used 1.5 packages for half the recipe. I also activated the yeast in a small glass of warm water to which I added a small amount of sugar. After 15 minutes it had turned into a glassful of foam, proof that the yeast was "good".

 The wine is being made in a plastic container which we've sat upon the kitchen counter. Because the kitchen is cool this time of year, the fermentation will be slow.
 In about a month - maybe more - or when the fermentation stops (the bubbling and fizzing will cease), the wine can be "racked", that is removed by siphoning it off through plastic aquarium tubing into bottles. It could also be strained through clean cheesecloth but I find that method a little sloppy and not altogether effective in removing sediment.

 Sometime about Christmas - or maybe as a New Year's toast - I suppose we'll be having a glass of this wonderful amber wine. It'll remind us of the summer just passed. It'll make us forget about the cold still ahead.

Here's how the wine looks two days later [10/22/11] after the first stirring:

 After Mom goes to bed and the house is quiet, I stop by the container the wine is in and listen to it. There is a general fizz and bubbling and the sweet smell of the fruit permeates the kitchen air. It's nice to know on such a cold fall night, that we have wine underway within these walls.

Later: (11/21/11) - Our apricot wine is finished and today we decided to "rack it off". I use plastic tubing to siphon the wine from the fruit, collecting it in a two quart bottle (where it will be racked off a second time to make sure it is 100% clear of sediment). Mom and I were finishing this procedure, scooping the alcoholic fruit from the container and placing it in a colander (we'll use it for fruitcake). Anyway, the kitchen smells like a brewery at this step, fruity and very alcoholic. That's when the UPS man knocked at our back door and scared us half to death. He handed a package in but I'm sure he's thinking he's witnessed two bootleggers at work!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Those Lovely Lines

 Nature loves arcs, lines pulled to a curve. Take the orbit of the plants, the curvature of gravity itself, the silhouette of the human body. Because nature loves curves, we love curves, too. We are made of them, thousands blending together to create life itself.
 So, at the pond, when I came upon a single clump of cattails thrust through the cool water, it wasn't the plant itself that stopped me in my tracks but their gentle curve.

 This might be my favorite photograph. Could I do better with a larger palette than mere shades of blue? Look how the sky is graduated and rippled in the surface of the water, from dark on the bottom to light above. Look how the cattail itself is green and shades of tan and yellow but how its reflection is a bold black. Which is the truer? Which is the more real?
When I look at the cattails shining on the water, I think of Japanese characters, even Oriental art ... simplicity itself. Thoreau would have stood at this spot transfixed, maybe shed a tear. How much can a single brush stroke represent? And here, one step closer to truth, the artist is nature herself.
 I stood there a moment, watching the water ripple against the stems and thought how perfect the scene. It is nothing more than a cattail reaching for life and yet it is the universe itself. The cosmos is captured in the curve.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Horse's Radish

 If you've ever watched any of the Lauren & Hardy shorts, you probably remember the routine in Twice Two (1933): "Would you go to the kitchen and get the horse's radish?" Stan Laurel asks his wife. "You go get it yourself!" she answers.
 "Hmph! Horse's radish!" she says.
 Well, horse's radish is something we grow and we've been waiting several years for our two current plants to mature enough to dig some of the root. Mom has been talking about making homemade horseradish for years.
 We've made it before, fiery hot horseradish that requires you treat it with some respect. Don't hold the spoon too close to your eyes when you add a dab to a sandwich.

 I'll show you the finished product first because you'd never think that a handful of roots (tubers, actually) would make something so snow white and delicious. But behind that meek exterior is the heart of a monster. We used a variation of this recipe. I'd say the liquid mentioned in the recipe is inadequate, though. Other recipes we've used call for up to 3/4 cup of vinegar. You can add liquids (vinegar and water) until the horseradish suits your taste. Without enough liquid, it won't grate properly in the blender, of course.

 Here's a picture of the roots I dug and washed. I just sit down on the ground and use the hose to wash the tubers while I rub them with my fingers. Pretty ugly things, huh?

 The roots are cut into convenient lengths and then a carrot peeler is used to remove the outer brown layer. You have to be careful to keep your fingers away from your eyes as you work with horseradish. After the roots are peeled, we cut them into small diagonal chunks.

 Looking down into our Waring blender, the roots are ready to be finely grated. Remember to add enough liquid to complete this step.
 Caution: When you remove the lid, stand back. The fumes which rise will cause your eyes to burn! I can't stress enough to be careful at this stage.
 We place the finished product in a small glass jar and refrigerate it. If you feel you need more vinegar or more salt, it can be added and stirred into the finished product. Though the recipe says it will keep for weeks, we've found the time it can be kept in the refrigerator much longer. Use common sense.
 Today, horse's radish. Tomorrow, a sandwich!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Sky Above

 The sky this week has been spectacular at every turn. Two days ago (10/13/11) I happened to walk out the driveway for the morning paper and this is the first sight I saw.

 The sun was rising behind the "Shell farm" on Venus Road and the old house presented an interesting subject as the sun rose behind it. The sky took on shades of lavender as the clouds took over. The day turned out to be cloudy and this was to be our total enjoyment of the sun. But think of that time when it first rose, when the air was still foggy with its nighttime mist, when the world was still partly wrapped in dreary dampness.

 By last evening (10/14/11) I decided that the few clouds we had overhead might spell a spectacular sunset. But it was not to be. I donned a robe over my pajamas and walked into the cut soybeans to our west. I was surprised to see gathering clouds. I had not been there a moment when I heard thunder to the southwest.

 And yet to the northwest, the sunset lit a small opening in the clouds. This small rosy area was still warm with the day's light while to the west the sky turned sombre and dark. This apricot opening stole my attention for a few minutes.

 Directly to the west, vigra fell heavily from an upper layer of clouds. It is rain, plain and simple, which evaporates before hitting the ground. With the dark backdrop, the rain slanted down and the view changed by the moment.

All the while, the opening to the north began closing in. The light fell as sunset progressed at just past 7 p.m.

 Another minute and the scene changed yet the more. The wind blew and the air cooled as my robe whipped about my legs. I did not want to stay - it was becoming too uncomfortably cool - but I could not take my eyes away from the clouds. The day was ending on a booming note and I wanted to hear what was being played.

 To the west, again, the virga fell in streams. It looked like dark, dirty smudges of coal dust, shaken from above.

 A closer view and it seems as though the clouds are coming apart at their seams, dropping whatever dark matter is hidden inside. This, it turns out, is exactly the case. The encased moisture has grown large enough drops to let loose but the air is still dry enough to gobble them back up before they hit the ground. It is the usually invisible cycle of cloud to cloud made visible.

 As I turned for the house, a torrent began to fall and yet I stayed dry. No more than a few drops fell later in the evening, when I was back within the house and buried beneath a warm knitted quilt. I heard the rain began to tap on the fallen leaves just outside the window. But it was short-lived and almost as soon as I heard it begin, it ended.

 And so this morning (10/15/11 at 7:54 a.m.) the sun rose clear and painted the horizon a vivid orange. Though these trees as half a mile away, they send their shadows my way for a few minutes until the sun has cleared their tops and bathed Pinehaven in an autumn light. It is cool ... 48° ... but the day dawns perfectly clear and we will enjoy Indian Summer at its best.

 Walking back to the house, ready to enjoy breakfast with my mother (who is celebrating her 86th birthday today) and brother, I look up through the maple at the corner of the house and see that as the sun rises, the moon prepares to set. It is just beyond full and it shines its cold, white light in the west where I watched the storm clouds gather not just twelve hours before.
 I love these cycles: cool and warm, wet and dry, calm and windy. Change is what I live for. Every day follows the same cycle and yet each is different. There is never an excuse to be bored.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Little Cat Feet

"The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches
 and then moves on"
Carl Sandburg

 After hearing that line of poetry as a child, I've never failed to think of it again when I'm walking in the fog. It describes the scene perfectly: quiet, even a little sinister. What lies just beyond vision?
 Even as I crawled out of bed this morning, I saw that the sky was unusually dark. I parted the white curtain at the head of my bed and looked over the soybean field to our east. It was enveloped in a thick fog; gradually the beans disappearing from view. When I went outside at about 8 a.m., the fog had grown thicker and when I finished my morning chores, I took a walk back Sam's lane. I was soon wrapped in the blanket of white. It was as though I had stepped into an insulated booth. Both my vision contracted and distant sounds became muffled and lost. I was alone on the long lane.
 As I neared Sam's house, a clump of trees began to lift through the fog. Where I had only soybeans at my side, dark shapes began to poke through the cloud ahead.

 The lane is on the left with Sam's farm house just beyond and the fog begins giving up a few shapes as I near. The trees, when I am at last beneath them, drip as though it has rained. But the sky overhead is a gray-blue and there's not a cloud in the sky. They are all on the ground.
 It is in the mid-40's and dead calm and the falling temperature overnight and the rain of days past, conspired to raise the relative humidity to saturation. While we slept, we became wrapped in this shroud. It is though the world whispered "shhhh".

 Then, turning towards home, there's the rear of our property, lined with trees. Pinehaven is within the right quarter of the frame, still nestled in fog, beyond view.
 It is not a good morning to be on the roads though the school bus passed our house on schedule. An occasional car threads its way down Clayton Road and the workday begins. Mine awaits, too. But my job today is mowing the yard and it is blessedly wet and safe for hours from my labor. I'll take the morning off and watch the fog burn off, listen for those little cat feet retreating silently.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's Only a Shadow

 Wasn't it FDR who said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"? He was right. As scary as the world may seem, it isn't. Everything is explainable. That's the beauty of science, the dogged determination to get to the bottom of things.
 And yet we're startled at every turn. Shadows in the night. A creak of the floor. We watch ghost stories on TV where technology-clad investigators jump at their own heartbeat. I'd like to tap them on the shoulder, every last one of them, and whisper into the ears, "It's just you," but they'd die of fright.
 For myself, though I profess fear of nothing, I'll make a little startled jump every now and then when something seems a bit out of place. When I stopped at the Germantown Public Library yesterday at 11 a.m. (this is an important piece of information) I was carrying some books and magazines to be returned. That's when I saw a rather large black spider at my feet.
 This is what I saw:

 Of course I realized in a flash that I was looking at a shadow, not at the thing itself. But shadows, as we all know, can be scary.

 Plastered on their south-facing windows were spiders - lots of them - but it was their shadows, their mere suggestions, that offered the real excitement. So I returned today, at 11 a..m. precisely so that I would find that sun shining in those windows at the same angle and present the spectacle to me anew. Another sunny days. Another web of spiders spinning across the floor.

 I watched as two young children came up the steps from their morning story time and revel in the spiders. They found each absolutely fascinating. The world is a wonder-full place for children. The told each spider "goodbye" as they left.

 And so a Halloween display commanded their attention ... and mine, too.
 There's nothing to be afraid of. Not a thing.

There's a Theme Here

 Those of you who follow this blog probably think I'm fixated on apples. I love them, that's for sure. Last weekend we had apple crisp made with local apples. Today I baked up a batch of our Pinehaven Applesauce Raisin cupcakes. They're the classic dessert which I never tire of, one I enjoy making year-round.

 Over the years I've taken my standard recipe (it's available here) and made slight changes every now and then. I enjoy adding a little ground clove (it was not part of the original recipe Mom made when I was a child), a teaspoon or so of vanilla and a variety of nuts (walnuts are still my favorite but chopped pecans are delicious, too).
 I added dried blueberries and cranberries this time. We generally have cranberries mixed in with our raisins but I've never added blueberries before. And they are delicious!
 As I take the 1/2 cup of raisins (etc.), cover them with water and microwave them for 30 seconds or so), the water which is then drained off and discarded will be inky-purple because of the blueberries. For this reason, the fruit should be added last and mixed gently. You don't want the batter turning blue.
 I made the muffins today because Bob and his friend, Sam, are heading out to Gatlinburg, Tennessee tomorrow for some hiking. Sam's mother always sends spice cookies and I always send muffins.
 This year they'll bite into something a little different.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Harshest Gentle Touch

 It is only October 2 but that isn't too early for frost. Last night when I went to bed I saw that the sky had cleared and the thermometer had already dropped to a nippy 39°. There was little doubt as to when our growing season would end.
 I thought about this as I woke during the night, feeling the gentle warmth of the electric blanket heating me from above. It is a delicious sensation, knowing how cold it is on the other side of a mere pane of glass at my head.
 By 7 a.m. I was awake and scanning the yard from the kitchen window. It dipped to 33.9° but I couldn't see any frost in the early morning light. Even when I went out at 8 a.m., I could see that the garden seemed safe from frost. But as I took garbage to our compost, I glanced at the backyard and saw that it was covered with patches of white.

 Here henbit and blades of grass stand stiff with frost and betray my every footfall. Frost sneaks up overnight, unheard and unfelt and then, with the morning light, splashes its white surprise unannounced. It is as harsh as it is gentle.

 The shingled roof of our unattached (and unheated) garage serve as my frost display. I can look there and tell at once the amount of frost I will find elsewhere in the yard. Look at how erratic the icing. Rows of shingles are frosty white while others stay merely wet. Why? This roof was replaced all the the same time. All of the shingles were pulled from the same packages and nailed in the same way. And yet one shows frost, one shows water. This is the south-facing section, open to the sky, not shadowed by a tree.

 A close-up of the henbit shows its lacy fringe. And so, while the garden shows no frost at all, I suppose it will show darkened tomato and pepper plants by evening. I doubt they have escaped. Yesterday we pulled two flower beds; tonight, I suspect, we will pull the garden.
 The average date of our first frost stays at October 6 after 38 years of my own record-keeping. We were only a few days early.
 I walked to Clayton Road to pick up our Sunday newspaper and found myself blinded by the sun. How brilliantly it shines on such a bitter morning. Now, at 10 a.m., the temperature has risen to 46°. The wind is calm and the day promises to be a spectacular one.

 We'll have a break from the cold - just as we always do - but it is this first frosty night that prepares us for winter. Get the yard cut one last time. Bring in the summer chairs. Drain and roll up the hose. Winter beckons as it glances from the dog-eared pages of the calendar, not so far away at all.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Apple Crisp

 Every fall we head to Crossroad Orchard (on SR 725 west of Miamisburg). This year we've been there three times. The first trip we bought half a peck of Jonathan's; on the following trips we bought two half pecks of Winesap's, one of the best apples we've eaten. Both are crisp and slightly tart; they're great when married with sugar and cinnamon.
 Today Mom made apple crisp, another important fall event. Though she makes this throughout the year - with apples from the grocery - it seems better with the locally-grown apples. Today is cool (just 50°) and windy and the leaves are beginning to turn. A perfect day to fire up the oven.

 Winesap's fresh from the tree are perfect for apple crisp. They're somewhat tart, a requirement for a dish which adds very sweet ingredients. A cup of strong black coffee is required to enjoy this dessert. Again, it's the contrast that makes it perfect. Don't like coffee? Then don't bother!

 Mom peels and cores the apples, then cut them into nice sized chunks. A cup of coffee, as you can see, is even required for this stage of the dessert. The lemon? Squirting a little bit on the apples adds another layer of tartness and is essential.

 Apple peels ready for the compost, Mom begins spooning the cinnamon topping on the dish prior to baking. As the apple crisp bakes, the house is flooded with the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon. It's the scent of fall at Pinehaven.

 The finished product awaits the first bite. I can tell you, it's as perfect as always.
 Want to make it yourself? The recipe is here.

Septic Cleaning

 Every now and then it needs to be done and there's no denying we've gone long enough. Three years would have been enough but I know it's been longer. The septic system needed pumping out. That's a hazard of living in the country.
 We always use C. Lee's Septic Sewer & Drain [845 S. Clayton Road, New Lebanon, OH 937-687-2388]. His business is located just five miles north of us and you couldn't ask for a nicer guy to do the work. He's responsive, works hard and does a good job.

 The weather is cool (lower 50's) and windy as Lee begins his work at about 6 p.m. He came earlier, I located where the concrete lid is buried, he dug it out and he left, picking up the tanker you see in the background. At least the day was sunny.

 Here the triangular concrete lid lies on the ground, pulled up by one of two heavy metal handles that Lee hooked with the tool he is holding. The lid was buried about 15" below the surface.

 Placing the tube in the septic tank, Lee is preparing the suck the 1500 gallons of sewage into his tanker. It will be disposed of at the Montgomery County site.

 The tanker holds about 2000 gallons and Lee estimated that with the rainwater that infiltrated our system as he pumped, he actually removed about 1600 gallons. In other words, our system was full and certainly needed the cleaning.

 Just about done, the entire operation took about an hour. The actual sewage removal takes less than that, maybe half an hour.

 Suction is measured and displayed here. The gauge reads about 20 psi.

 And there's the last of the sewage. The tank is empty but for a little rainwater. We're done for another few years.
 Here's a short video of the procedure: