Keeping busy during retirement

No matter how many things I have retired from, it seems that there are always more things to which I devote that free time to.

Quite a few years ago now, I retired from working-for-a-living, i.e. teaching after 45 years. At the same time I also retired from writing a bridge column after 30-plus years for the Marshall Independent, originally just the Independent back when I started.

Also at the same time I retired from various committees and city council for Marshall including the Marshall Utilities Commission as well as the Marshall/Lyon County Library Board and others. All of those activities were eventually replaced by other activities, notably Marshall Senior Citizen Board and the Marshall YMCA Board as well as starting the Oh, Fiddlesticks! column (now into the 16th year of that) to the Marshall Independent.

This year I will retire from an activity I have enjoyed for many years, viz. having a garden on the Marshall Citizen plots out by the water plant. I guess I am tired-of or have run-out-of patience having to fight weeds and pests which was not my favorite in the gardening process.

For the past few years I have been able to give about a hundred or more of the “tiny-tim” pumpkins to the YMCA for the youth program. This year I did not have as many of those pumpkins, but did an even larger number of decorative gourds which I donated to a couple of organizations. I also have managed green bean giveaways every year and usually some squash – primarily butternut.

I am not sure what I will replace the gardening with, but I am sure something will turn up.

jtr

A couple of years ago, I thought I might give up on another food item I enjoyed preparing. For a few years back in the late 1900s I was grateful to some friends for allowing me to pick domestic raspberries, but lately in June I have braved the woods often along a friend’s area by a stream as well as in some other locations along other streams in order to pick wild raspberries.

The wild raspberries, invariably black ones when ripe, have a much better flavor than domestic raspberries. The problem with the wild ones are that they are very small and it takes hours to pick enough for my process of making wild raspberry jelly. The picking also means coating myself in insect repellant as well as watching for poison ivy which seems to survive well in some of the places where the raspberries are plentiful.

I should also mention that the picking is limited to about two weeks before they disappear. Should I mention we also used to do chokecherry and crab apple jelly?

After wild raspberry season there is usually about a two month hiatus before it is time for grape picking. Preparing the grapes is much more tedious in that it requires de-stemming each individual grape from the bunch. De-stemming is not too bad for domestic grapes, but wild grapes average only about a quarter of an inch (or smaller) in diameter. The wild grapes are also found along the shores of area streams.

Again, the bug spray is usually a necessity and this year the mosquitoes seemed to be out in force. If the grapes were out in the open enough that a breeze would push the mosquitoes away, that would be great, but the grape vines seem not to want to be out where the wind helps keep the mosquitoes away.

I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of sources for the domestic grapes in the past five or so years. Both domestic and wild grapes tend to have fairly large seeds. To make jelly, both the raspberries and the grapes need to be juiced, removing the pulp and the seeds which is another time-consuming process.

The juicing process means adding some water to the fruit and boiling the fruit and juice, then straining the mixture through cheese cloth or (as I do as taught me by my wife) through a piece from a discarded pillow case or sheet, tying the pulp up to form a bag and letting it drip or gently squeezing the bag to get the juice extracted from the pulp. Warning: This process is tricky in that it is very hot and tying off the bag is sometimes tough to do especially if wearing kitchen gloves. I have usually avoided the gloves, but that means I end up with red to purple hands from the juice.

Total production of jelly this year of the three kinds, wild raspberry, wild grape, and domestic grape, is something over 70 jars. In a past column I mentioned the cost of mailing jars of the jelly for Christmas to 10 or so relatives in various states: Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. Total cost/value of a jar of jelly including minimum wage for my picking, making and mailing is roughly $18/jar. Of course my retirement time is not really worth the minimum wage. Oh, Fiddlesticks! I really do it because I find it enjoyable to do.

jtr

One of my favorite ways to enjoy the jelly is spread (thickly) on a piece of buttered, whole-wheat toast or just as good if not better, spread on a piece of freshly baked bread.

I am a bit sad that we will no longer get Marge’s fresh-baked bread that we have received once or twice a year for about 40 years, often delivered while still warm. Needless to say we often delivered to her a jar or so of homemade jelly.

About 20 years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn to make bread the old fashioned way without one of those bread making machines. Marge Sorenson was my teacher. She invited me to her house and oversaw my lessons in her kitchen, with some time off to let it rise and then to return to punch it back before getting to the actual baking. She was a kind, patient teacher.

My success at bread making did not match her skill nor her ease at doing the bread making. However, for a couple of years, I did manage to donate some loaves, even making some cinnamon bread, to our church Christmas Bazaar fundraiser – an event that is no longer held. Marge: You are missed.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!

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