Suburban Homesteading in Southwestern PA

By Stacy Artis

Re-Learning the Homesteading way to make life better in the suburbs

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July 11, 2003

The picnic on the Fourth was a great success even though the temperature was above 90 and the humidity was as high as it could be without being rain!  Sweltering is a perfect way to describe it.  The kids handled it fine by staying in the pool all afternoon.  We adults managed by moving around as little as possible and taking breaks in the air conditioning.  A big storm system moved in around 5:30 and we had just enough time, with everyone pitching in, to get things packed up and put away before it hit.  The rain was very heavy for a couple of hours then eased up but continued for most of the evening.  The fireworks were postponed until the next night.

Saturday found us taking Matthew to our church camp down on the Maryland border.  It is in the mountains just outside of Markleysburg, PA.  The flag pole at the camp actually sits on the border.  It makes it "interesting" for the camp caretaker, who has to make sure the laws of two states are followed.  Matt is spending a week as a camp counselor.  He likes working with kids and is very good at it.  Anyway, it is a beautiful drive down there and back through the Laurel Highlands.  We pass Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, Ohiopyle's whitewater, Nemacolin Woodlands and a whole lot of beautiful country in between.  I love the trip, especially in the Fall when the leaves are turning.  On a sad note, we heard later that day that a group from Ohio that had come rafting at Ohiopyle lost one of its leaders to drowning.  We had to come home through Mt. Pleasant so we could pick up Megan at Tim's sister's place.  Megan had spent the night there so she could spend more time with the visiting cousins who all went home Saturday morning.  Sally's house sits directly across the street from a large Catholic church and there was a wedding going on.  We sat on the front porch and watched the wedding party arrive and all the guests.  Fun to see what everyone was wearing.  We worked in the garden that night after it had cooled off some.  I pulled weeds, Tim tied up the tomato plants and Megan put the pulled weeds in the compost pile.  We turned up a baby mole, the first Megan had ever seen and she was thrilled, but it looked like his back was hurt.  I had her put him at the base of the compost pile, which seemed to satisfy her as to his safety from neighborhood cats.

Megan has been so bored this week with her brother gone.  None of her friends seem to have been around and it has rained.....a lot.  Stuck inside, she's exhausted anything she wants to do.  Normally, she would spend a lot of time swimming, either here or at a friends.  She broke down one day (that was actually nice enough to swim) and invited her boy cousins over.  Now that is bored!  I think the chickens are bored, too.  They have started pulling each others feathers out again.  I noticed yesterday that one poor chook's rump is bald as can be and bloody.  I need to find some way to discourage that.  I saw some spray made from spices in one of the catalogs, but I would think that would burn on irritated flesh.

The rain this week has been incredible.  A storm system like none I've seen in a long time, if ever, passed through in the wee hours of Tuesday morning dumping about three inches of rain in a short time.  The thunder and lightening were amazing.  This part of the country very seldom sees strobing lightening, but that's what we had.  Once again we were lucky to avoid any damage.  Not so much as a leaf down when I checked in the morning and our power never did more than flicker at the height of the storm.  We've had off and on rain all week and several more severe storm systems passing through.  The latest, last evening, dumping another 2-3 inches of rain.  The Loyalhanna Creek which runs along U.S. 30 from Ligonier to Latrobe before turning and running straight through the middle of Latrobe is usually a slow-moving, meandering stream about 50 feet wide, but I have seen the whole Rt. 30 corridor under water before.  Last night the warnings were out for flooding in those areas.  In town, only the outer edges where the creek is still preserved in its natural state, really need to worry.  In the center of town, the creek bed was dug down years ago and the water would have to rise an incredible amount to overflow the banks.  Times like this are when I am especially thankful we live high on a hill.  Our hill is almost an island with lower land on three sides and a mountain ridge on the fourth.  If we walk just two streets over we can look down on the entire town of Latrobe, which sits in a small valley.

We haven't been able to do much outside this week with all the rain.  The ground is completely saturated and water is laying anywhere there is a dip.  I hope it dries out soon as the weeds have been growing like......well, weeds!  We need to get in the garden and get after them.  West Nile virus is a problem in this area, as well and I don't like all the water sitting around to encourage the mosquitoes.  We began the month about .10" below normal for precipitation.  I don't think that's the case anymore.  I don't know an exact measure, but I'm guessing we've had 6-10 inches of rain this week.  All that rain didn't cool anything off.  It's been staying in the upper 80's with high humidity.  Today is our first break with an expected high of 78.  All the rain is probably the only thing that has kept the flowers from broiling in the heat.  My potted flowers are actually thriving and I usually have a very hard time with them because of how hot the afternoon sun gets.  We sure are enjoying the sunflowers.  They are mostly all blooming now and are so pretty!  The goldfinches like them, too.  When I sit out on the deck I see them checking them out for seeds and resting on the leaves.

I cooked a large ham on Monday and we've been enjoying meals with ham in them all week, but I think we are about hammed out so today the rest goes in the freezer for a future meals.  Here's a recipe for a side dish the whole family loves and it goes great with ham.

2 eggs, beaten
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can cream-style corn
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
1-8.5oz. box Jiffy corn muffin mix
Grated Parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients except muffin mix and cheese.  Add muffin mix and mix well.  Pour into a 2qt. sprayed casserole dish.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  Remove and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Return to oven for another 15 minutes or until center is firm.

Well, no rain is falling from the sky at the moment so I'd best get outside and take care of the chickens and rabbits while I can.

Carpe diem,