Thursday, May 31, 2018

It's Green and Beautiful!

We hardly had a spring this year. It seemed like one day it was winter and then suddenly it was summer. Things have been moving at high speed since my post in April. Here's a walk around the homestead this week, we'll start with the front porch and look at things in order of a walkabout.

These two beauties came from an Amish greenhouse we like to frequent. We've been buying our tomato and pepper starts there for several years. Their payment counter is in the flower greenhouse - I'd be OK if I didn't have to pay for my veggies. Once I get in there I usually end up taking home a basket (or two) or some flats of posies.

These Million Bells remind me of small purple roses.

And this basket overflowing with pink Petunias is almost three feet across!

Along side the driveway is a very large mulch pile that has been aging for almost two years. It's at its prime this year and we are using it liberally. It is about six large truck loads of chipped deciduous trees in leaf. Moist, rich, and life just wants to spring from it, like these pretty little mushrooms. There are colonies of more than one kind to be found.

Across from our driveway the side of the road is awash in Purple Phlox in bloom. It was hard to get a picture as we had a nice breeze this afternoon and everything was in motion. 

The Bleeding Hearts, Lilac and Ornamental Quince have all come and gone but the Bee Balm was quick to stand in their place. The distinctive blossom has such a lovely color. And it is aptly named, the bees seem to love it. 

And I think there are more Columbine blooming in my front garden than I ever saw during my entire time in Colorado. They are eager and proud little bloomers. I will be transplanting them this year, so I hope they are hearty, as well.

And the Rhododendrons are spectacular this year. I think the sudden summer without the false starts of early warm ups followed by freezes suited the woody ornamentals. I love the perfect bouquets held out on friendly stems. I feel a connectedness to the Rhododendrons - they communicate with me all winter long with their posture and leaves. The colder it is, the tighter the leaves curl up into little cylinders. Who needs a thermometer when they are so willing to keep me informed? And I admire their tenacity, when all other green leaved bushes have turned to barren twigs - they keep their green on. 

And how about that raised bed - the one where I was sure things would grow in my last post? It's got a wire hoop frame to keep the chickens out and life is growing enthusiastically in it's safe bounds.

Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, onions, carrots, radishes, snap peas, beets, lettuce, basil, chives and dill are filling out and will soon fill it up. And just like every year - I am captivated by the tiny seeds and fragile stems that persist and burst with life until they are strong, sturdy plants.

Kent has been tackling a big job and he is succeeding. The blackberries and raspberries were getting out of hand and had taken over our little grape vines (our "vinyette") and created an unruly mass of impenetrable, spiney canes. He has recovered the grapes and is taming the blackberries. The raspberries were sacrificed for the greater good.

They don't look like much but these grape vines already appear to have miniature grape clusters growing on them.

And the blackberries are just covered in clouds of white blossoms! A super abundance that bodes well for blackberry pies and jam. 

Their nearby neighbors, the pear and apple trees, are not to be outdone. Tiny apples and pears are beginning to bulge with expectancy.

And one final picture for now - the Locust Trees are in bloom all around us. The air is sweetly scented and the trees are striking in their finery. This makes the bees very happy. And we are happy to have a new swarm take up residence in our hives today!

The green is here and with it the humidity, the insects, and the heat. But I have resolved to stop my whining and revel in the abundance of life that thrives in this warm climate, rich soil, and lavish moisture. There is a chaotic party of plants and creatures determined to celebrate life! I'm going to join them!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ready for the Greening

After a winter that has lingered and loitered, we are getting antsy for spring to come to us in earnest. It was still snowing this past week - even creating light accumulations. But today dawned bright and clear and though the temps were in the 50's the sun made it seem warmer.

Caleb and the kitties found some daffodils getting ready to bloom. Even without blooming, their green makes a lovely splash of color in an otherwise brown world. Without his bright scarf and Duey's white markings, the pets would all but disappear into the browns and greys of leaves, stones and branches. The winter is leaving but spring hasn't taken its place yet and so we wait for the greening with hopeful hearts.

We prepared a raised bed to receive seeds for radish, salad greens, onions starts and sweet peas. I can't wait to put fresh veggies on the table!

The chickens have been enjoying the fresh air and scratching for their lunch but I'm sure they are as eager to eat fresh greens as we are. After suffering the loss of Foghorn, the rooster, to a neighbor's dogs we are in the market for a new leader and protector for our girls. They continue to lay delicious eggs but more than once we have been grateful for a rooster to guard and protect them. He was doing that very thing when he met his end and thanks to him we didn't lose a hen that day. Or the day he wrestled with a fox. He was very good at his job.

And now the bed is ready for the hoop top we will build to protect from frost, chickens, and curious cats. We'll get our hands in the dirt along with some seeds and wait for the miracle of new life to unfold. Spring brings so much hope to us here on the homestead!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Hazards of Raising Your Own Meat

Now, not everyone will tell you about the hazards of homesteading. I have often shared One Girl's Rant on the Hazards of Raising Hens. Here I am going to elaborate on the hazards of raising turkeys.

Case in point, you look forward to a delicious turkey dinner. Yes, I know it's January and most people do this in November but that is the beauty of raising turkeys. They're not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Anyway, you look forward to roasting your bird and then this happens.

It doesn't fit in the roasting pan
But we are undaunted. We made foil ramps to extend beyond the edges of the pan and channel the drippings back into the pan. We've got this. Now lest you think that we chose a small pan, let me put this in perspective for you. Here's the bird with Kent.

Turkey: Dressed weight - 33.4 pounds
So we've established that the pan was of typically sufficient size but the bird was a tad large. We slathered it with mayonnaise and covered it with foil and put it in the oven. Just.

I'm glad it wasn't any larger
On the lowest rack setting the turkey is still kissing the top of the oven. The foil is not tented. It's wrapped right around it. And lest you think that perhaps this is a small oven, let me dispel that idea. This is a three rack 5.6 cubic foot oven. Actually over-sized for the average oven. Do you see the rack sagging a little under the weight? Did I mention that it's 33.4 pounds? So that is hazard #2. #1 - Pan too small. #2 - Oven nearly too small.

And hazard #3...
We put the bird in at noon thinking we'd have it for dinner.

Looking good!

Looking good but still not quite done. Do you see the clock behind that bad boy? Yup 7pm and it's not ready. But the mashed potatoes, corn and cranberry conserve were ready. What to do?

Well, hazard #4 is that you almost always seem to have some turkey on hand. So we popped open some home-canned turkey stock and some jars of home-canned, home-grown turkey and made turkey and gravy to go over those taters. And we'll put that bird outside tonight to chill and have turkey dinner again tomorrow. Hmmm. Would that be hazard #5? Turkey. Again.

I don't mind living this hazardous life.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Winter's Many Moods

I can't help but notice that even though it's a white world out there, the moods never stop changing

This morning as it got light there was a softness to things, covered in frost and misty, like a picture that is fading. And I knew it would.

And then it was light but filtered through clouds. This world of high contrast black and white hides the subtleties of dark green pine needles and the purple/blue shadows.

But then the sky clears to blue and the sun shines and it feels so clean, clear, fresh and full of promise - reminding me that beneath the snow is a fertile, slumbering cornucopia awaiting spring.

 Yes, I played around a bit enhancing my photos, I don't deny that. I wanted them to portray more clearly what it looks like through my eyes. I'm not yet tired of winter. I look forward to spring and renewed life around here but for now I am taking my clues from the season and allowing things to rest a bit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Menu Planning Central

For years I've been working on refining my menu planning system. I've read so many tips and techniques, seen and even tried some subscription options, and implemented many helpful tools but I have always felt like it wasn't quite right for us yet. It didn't quite work for me as I hoped.

Some elements are very important to me, such as:
  • Eat whole foods and make our food items from scratch
  • Shop from my pantry first
  • Use what is in season in both my garden and the grocery store
  • Stay within our budget
  • Plan ahead
  • Make foods my family truly enjoys and anticipates

Things not so important to me:
  • Someone else making my grocery list
  • Super speedy meals
  • Menus designed for avoidance of dairy, gluten, sugar, etc.

I came across an amazing resource recently that inspired me to remodel my current system and it is already working so much better for me/us. I encourage you to visit Don't Waste the Crumbs and find a totally win site full of menu planning helps and ideas. She even offers a subscription service with monthly menus, shopping lists, prep lists, and helpful tips. I'm still mining the depth of her content and I have finally found a great match for our family. And Tiffany, the site owner, has such a winning way about her - she's gracious and full of encouragement.

Her recipes, thus far, have been hits and very much like the foods we already enjoy. They are seasonal and use items that should be fresh, abundant and priced right. They are whole food meals that don't lose sight of having a budget to work within and put priority over serving your family real food rather than focusing on high priced and hard to find items. It may not all be organic but it is all doable, all delicious, all real food, and all a refreshing reality check.

So that leads up to my new Menu Planning Central. Incorporating my past favorite techniques and tools with those gleaned from Don't Waste the Crumbs, I've moved my Thirty-One organizer from the quilt studio to the kitchen and populated it with all the tools I need to keep putting delicious real food meals on my family's table without soaking the budget or my time.

 Top left - pantry and freezer inventory; top right - "white board" for reminders of tasks in the kitchen; Middle - Monthly menu; Middle left - recipe cards to use and file; Bottom left - Printed daily and staple recipes; Bottom right - Prep and planning lists and printed recipes to file.

And I was looking to replace the small dry erase board I had on the fridge. It was too small and the magnet were not strong so it kept shifting and falling. I mentioned to my husband that perhaps I would just put white paper in sheet protectors and tape them to the fridge. In addition to the one I keep for leftovers that need eaten, I wanted to add one for perishables that need used. That is when he pointed out to me that our kitchen walls are actually just like white boards.

So I've started writing on the wall with my husband's encouragement. How strange. So beside the fridge we have this:
We've been having great meals and I don't have to spend all day worrying about what to make or spending it in the kitchen. Win! More time to quilt.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sewing Assistants

After much training and constant reminding, we finally have a working arrangement. While my quilt studio is not small, it is oddly laid out and has a "bump out" (I believe that's the technical term) in one corner. I adopted that as my location for the three tables that make up the heart of my work. The serging station, mini pressing/cutting station, the sewing station and a partial fourth side that is a floor to ceiling bookshelf to hold tools and reference material. I can access them each from my chair in the center. It's a great setup.Very efficient. Except for the fact that the dogs seemed to think it was where I needed them to be whenever I was in the room. Of course this is with tails, ears and paws laying dangerously in the path of my chair's wheels as I scoot, with my attention riveted on my project, from one task to another. I know this because there was a good bit of yelping and jumping about involved.

But I was determined to train them to stay out of "The Sacred Sewing Square" as I dubbed it. So training commenced and after weeks of ordering, pointing, sharply speaking and 1,000+ times of asking them to leave...     I finally put a dog bed under the cutting table so that at least Simple Dog would stay put and out of harms way. Helper Dog feels guilty about everything (and I mean everything, including crop failures in the Midwest) and so was easier to train. She is also larger and didn't find the confined space as comfortable. So I had assistants and the training was obviously effective. On me. Everything seemed to smooth out until my sister's dog came to stay. Special Dog, we'll call her, seems even more confused by life than is Simple Dog.

Training commenced again. Especially since running over a very small dog with only three good legs seems more than cruel. However, this time the training was effective in much less time. In only 24 hours I had taught her learned that another dog bed needed to be squeezed into the SSS.

And so here are my sewing assistants providing much needed help as I work.

It really is a dog's life.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cabin Fever?

Nah. I get out plenty. I go out and fill the bird feeders, water and feed the chickens, carry buckets of hot water to the cows and toss them hay. And by then I'm all warmed up and I just take a little time to enjoy the spectacularly single-digit world of snow.

Actually, I was thinking of going out to the quilt shop this afternoon. I told my husband I'd wait for him to get home since we are running our wood furnace vigorously these days just to keep the house warm. I wouldn't want to leave it unattended. He suggested I might just need to get out since I hadn't left the house all week. That's not entirely accurate. I won't say I haven't left our house but I can say I haven't left our property in 9 days. And I don't feel bad about that at all. Just think of all the money I've saved on gas and groceries. I've been happily cooking from the pantry and freezer. I'm only interested in the quilt store because of some fabric I need to get. I really am a home body. I love keeping the house warm and cozy and having a delicious hot meal ready when Kent and Steph get home from work and school.

I also look after the animals. While that necessarily means the laying flock and beef cows, it also means I can't let those wild birds sit outside my windows huddled against the 6 degrees and not give them some extra fuel to burn.

It's a popular gathering place. I've counted as many as 9 different types of birds at once but generally they seem to gather in groups of select varieties at various different times. This was a colorful get-together full of Mr. and Mrs. Cardinals and Blue Jays with at least one woodpecker thrown in. This is the view out a kitchen window, it's quite distracting when I'm cooking. And I do keep a bird identification book on the shelf with the cookbooks.

And then there are the indoor animals. I promised my brother I'd post a picture of my adorable cockerspaniel, Caleb, in the sock monkey sweater my sister gave him. He wears it pretty much all the time and seems to enjoy putting it on when it gets really cold. Though he also has a winter coat that my daughter got him for when he goes outdoors. It really does help - me at least. His fur is so like a human's and gets soaking wet when he gets in the snow.

And when I'm inside I don't have time to get bored or have cabin fever. I'm practicing my quilting and working on projects. Here's one in progress and nearing completion. It's a growth chart for my niece. I was "trying on" the patchwork binding I made to see what I think of the look. And now that I think about it, I'd rather be quilting!

I hope you are staying warm and finding something creative to do during these long short winter days. Would you take time to comment and tell me - "What do you like to do when you are home keeping warm?" "How long can you stay home before you get antsy and need to get out?" You'll help me get that much needed personal interaction so I don't go stir crazy.