Monday, December 5, 2011


We're lucky. Behind our house is a largely vacant lot of forest. It's a plot about 20+ acres, with a ring of houses all the way around it. No one appears to ever go back there (judging by talking with neighbors as well as simple observations that there are NO paths at all). It's full of downed wood, half rotted stumps, and trees dangling precipitously from other tree branches. We decided that we wanted to both improve our view and heat our home.

We don't have a wood splitter this year. We don't have a 20 lb maul. We don't have a tractor to drag out the logs to convenient places to buck them. But we do have one another, a decent 8 lb maul, a wheelbarrow, and a really good chainsaw. With a bit of (okay a LOT of) work, we've managed to pull about 2 cords worth of trash wood out from behind the house. We're not touching standing live trees, as it isn't our property as we're well aware. But the fallen (and partially fallen) trees are dangerous to our children, who go tromping around in the woods (and as it isn't posted, it IS free for people to go wandering through). The neighbors who've noticed (most of them) have commented how nice it looks back there now. Go team!

So this is how it works. Gray goes out back and finds a solid but downed tree. It has to not be punky or riddled with too many holes. He proceeds to use his chainsaw to buck the wood into 16" logs. These are loaded onto the wheelbarrow and rolled out to the front of our house. There, we have a nice stump just right for splitting wood on. The logs go onto the stump, and Gray splits it with his little (but extremely effective!) maul. The kids and I pick up the pieces and until today, we'd been putting them into the emptied blue bins we moved our things in. Today, our wood supply exceeded our available bins (and porch space) and so the remainder of the wood (a half cord or so) was wheeled over to the side of the driveway and neatly stacked by the children.

The full bins came into the roofed porch, to wait for use. When we get low inside, we pull a bin in and empty it into the space behind our woodstove. There, it dries sufficiently to be used in the stove. By using this "free" wood, we have kept the house at a livable temperature since the October snow storm. The furnace is set to 55F, but I don't believe it has come on at all since we got the woodstove hooked up! The main part of the house stays at about 64F or so, quite decent.

Wood, as the saying goes, warms you several times., so you really get your money's worth. You're warmed while harvesting it, warmed again while bucking and splitting it, then warmed while bringing it in to burn. Then, when you burn it, it warms you again. It's lovely heat, so cozy and deliciously scented. Some of the wood we've gotten has been hard maple, oak, and spruce. All of it has its own scent, its own burning time, and its own temperature while burning. It's all very interesting and fun to learn about as you struggle to keep the fire going efficiently.

How do you heat your home? Do you have an oil furnace? Gas? Plain ol' electric forced air? When I grew up, I took heat for granted. It was "just there" no matter the time of day or night. The gentle flick of a finger brought about a change in the temperature that kept you from knowing exactly what the outside world was like. Now, working for my heat, I have much more appreciation for it. Our children are growing up in a different world, one where "not stacking the wood" means "being cold every night for a week."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Brown Sugar Apple Upside Down Coffee Cake

Layering brown sugar & apples
I'm not a big baker. My bread is so-so, and my cakes often come out somewhat flat. However, once in a long while I get a real itch to bake something, anything. Today is one of those days. It's snowy out, and by baking I can convince myself that I don't really need to go get wet out there moving fallen branches. I'm doing something USEFUL. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I snagged a coffee cake recipe off the internet, but during the production of said cake, I made an error. However, due to the Fates loving me, the error turned out great. Aren't you glad I kept impeccable notes, so you can reproduce this delicious thing? I knew you were!

Mixing the ingredients

  • 1/2 cup room-temperature butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup raisins (or 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup chopped nuts)
  • 1 apple sliced thin
  • extra brown sugar for layering bundt pan
The batter goes into the pan
Cream the butter (or margarine) with the sugars. I used my MixMaster and it went pretty easily. My butter was a bit cold, though, and it got a bit grainy. The addition of the applesauce fixed that, though. Once the sugar is creamed, add the applesauce and beat well until smooth. Stir in the flour, baking powder and baking soda, vanilla, and your spices. Mix well, then add raisins and/or nuts. 

While all that is mixing, spray the bottom of your favorite bundt pan or grease it with butter. Put a layer of brown sugar down, and on top of it, add thin sliced apples in a ring, all the way around. I made mine pretty but I suppose you could as easily put chopped apples or not be so Martha Stewart about the whole thing. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Freshly out of the oven
Pour the batter carefully on top of the brown sugar-apple layers. It will be quite thick batter, as this is a dense coffee cake. Smooth it out a bit with a spatula, then slide the whole thing into the oven for about 45 minutes (start checking at 40 minutes - mine went to 47 minutes for a perfect consistency). Check for readiness with a wooden skewer, piece of raw spaghetti or a knife inserted into the cake. When it comes out clean (ie free of batter) it's ready. I strongly suggest licking the implements while you're waiting for it to bake, by the way. I did. I don't even feel the least bit guilty about it, either!

The finished product!
When it's ready, take the cake out and set to rest in a cool spot for five minutes, then turn out onto a plate. I hope yours turns out looking as darned impressive as mine did, because I just know my family is going to go ape over this. The only change I would suggest making is that you lightly dust the greased pan with flour before putting in the toppings and batter. Mine stuck a bit on one side (and I was forced to eat the caramelized bits... a true sacrifice on my part, but I'd do it again... for the family, you know...). I think the flour would eliminate that, although I'm not entirely certain.

This should be served warm in my opinion. It has the consistency and flavor of a nice spice cake, being somewhat dense. However, it looks beautiful and would definitely grace a Thanksgiving table well. I intend to do just that for this Thanksgiving, in fact, with the center hole filled with flowers or a candle or some such other frippery. Yay me!

More images of the results of my baking. I can't wait for dessert!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Too many apples . . . ?

It is the season of apples, that's for sure! We bought apples the other day because the Jongolds just looked too good not to get. Besides, we only had one Red Delicious left in the house. Then some friends gave us apples, and the children picked a few of the apples off our tree. So we had quite a few apples, but it wasn't overwhelming. Then our kids went on a field trip to an apple orchard, and each child got a whole bag of apples that they picked themselves. It was starting to get a bit crowded....

And then friends of ours who are moving asked if we wanted to clear off their trees as they weren't going to have time to before they left. Um... yeah, we do want free apples! So we picked two grocery bags FULL of even more apples. Now we have lots and lots of apples.

Lately I've been wondering what to DO with all these apples. After all, we're not going to "just eat" all of them. While I could make applesauce, it tends not to get eaten and also all my canning stuff is still packed Somewhere In A Box. Alright, what else can I do with apples?

I went online and looked up chicken and apples, because that's what I had a lot of for cooking with. I found a wonderful recipe which I tweaked and turned into the following delicious meal for our family.

Chicken, Apple and Onion with Rice

* 2 lbs chicken meat, cut in strips or medallions
* 2 large or 3 medium apples, sliced very thin (preferably in different colors)
* 1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
* 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed
* 2 leeks, OR several green onions
* 2 medium carrots
* 2 cups thinly shredded cabbage (any type)
* about 1 cup of sweet red wine (I prefer Sangria myself), OR apple cider
* butter, olive oil, water, and spices as needed

In a large cast iron pan, drizzle a bit of olive oil and a pad of butter (if desired... we like the flavor it imparts to the onions) and allow to heat up but not brown. Add onions and saute until soft, then add apples. Continue to saute until they begin to cook and the pan begins to dry a bit. Add enough wine to moisten the pan (and more oil or butter if necessary) and cover with a loose fitting lid. Cook until the onions and apples are soft and translucent but not falling apart. Carefully spoon out the mixture and add to the bottom of a roasting pan or large dutch oven. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F while doing the next step. Take your chicken (I used medallions because we had chicken breast from a sale, but you could easily just stir fry this) and brown it lightly in the pan you just took your onions and apples out of. I cheated and used a bit of no-stick spray to keep them from crisping. The idea is not to cook the pieces through, but to brown them on both (all) sides to seal in the juice and flavor. Places the cooked pieces on top of the apples and onions in a single layer (if possible; we had to double up in spots). When all the chicken is done, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a bit of Hungarian paprika, pour the remainder of the wine or cider over it, then put into your pre-heated oven for about a half hour (this will be ready when your rice is ready).

Browned chicken on onions and apples.
After thoroughly rinsing your rice in a colander (this can take up to ten minutes!), let it drip dry for a moment while you heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan you just used for the chicken. Don't worry that there's a bit of chicken or onion in it - this only adds to the flavor! Add the rice and heat it well in the oil, stirring it constantly until it is evenly coated with the olive oil. Meanwhile, boil 4 cups of water in a saucepan with a tight lid, and then add the hot, oiled rice to the water and cook per the package instructions. If there are any grains of rice in the pan, wipe them out with a paper towel (but do not wash the pan!).

As your rice and chicken are cooking, you can prepare the rest of the meal. Thinly slice your green onions or leeks (I used leeks, pictured left) and yes, they go back into that same cast iron pan you've been using. Add a bit more oil or spray, and saute until the leeks begin to come apart, but before they get mushy. Using a peeler, peel off strips of fresh carrot, making little curlicues. These go into the pan with the leeks. The little inner core that you have left can be fed to children or munched on yourself, because you can never get that last piece to peel.

Add the cabbage and some hot water (about 2 tablespoons worth, but be prepared to add more as the pan deglazes under the veggies). At this point, any vegetable could be added to the mix: mushrooms, celery, squash, peas, corn... Your imagination is your only limitation. I happened to have carrots, leeks and savoy cabbage from our last run to the farm co-op, and so that's what I used. These should be sauteed until soft and perhaps a bit browned, but not mushy. Sprinkle with spices to taste. Again, I used salt, pepper and paprika, and nothing else.

When the rice is ready, mix the vegetables and the rice together well. Your chicken should also be ready, and can be scooped onto a large platter or into a bowl. The finished product should have a somewhat sweet flavor with a hint of salt to it. The rice will be savory, but because it was all cooked in the pan you started with, it should have a hint of the sweetness of the wine as well. We served this with a side of buttered kernel corn, which seemed to round it out well. It was successful enough that I was asked to make it again sometime, and I was also asked to make the apple and onion mixture as a stand-alone side dish! It turned out pretty, smelled heavenly, and the flavors were both delicate and delicious. This served three adults and two (very ravenous) children with one plate worth of leftovers (and lots of left over rice, but that's never a problem).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saving Seeds

The Delicata squash is one of my favorites. It has a plump, small, zeppelin like shape that is largely yellow or yellowish-orange, with long green stripes down its length. It's relatively meaty for its small size, and is quite easy to de-seed. I am cooking Delicatas for with our dinner this evening, something I've been anticipating for days. It's a simple recipe: split in half, de-seed, scrape the innards a bit with a fork, then put a plop of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar in each half. Place these into a baking pan or cast iron pan (as I did, pictured) with about a half inch of water in the bottom, and bake at 350F for about an hour. It's ready when a fork goes into the thickest parts of the squash with ease.

The result of this cooking creation, of course, was a pile of gooey seeds on my cutting board. I stared at them, grumpy that I don't have a real composting bin right now. It seemed somehow shameful to just toss out those seeds, after all! Then I remembered... these were not squash from the grocery store. They were from the local organic farm! Glory be, I had my spring crop of squash sitting right there waiting for me! I did the happy squash dance for a few minutes, startling Gray and causing him to shoot dirty looks at me. I didn't care, though. Seeds! Oh joy!

I googled "saving delicata seeds" just to make sure I remembered it correctly. I did. Saving winter squash seeds is as simple as scooping them out, washing them off, and drying them thoroughly. They are then stored in a dark, cool place until spring, when you can either wait for a soil temperature of 70F (hah... not in New England! lol) or start them indoors and then transplant them when it warms up.

I washed the seeds up very nicely, using a colander with small holes and running "not quite cold" water. I separated all the goopy parts from the seeds, and trashed those. The seeds were then swished and washed yet again. The result was a pile of quite lovely looking little seeds. Once they're dry, I'll have to pick through them and get rid of any immature ones (tiny ones, or shriveled ones). Still, that's an impressive amount of seeds to save for planting in the spring!

I spread the wet seeds in one layer across a doubled up paper towel on top of one of my dish drying foamies. There they'll stay until they're dry as bones, probably 2 to 3 weeks. When they're ready, I'll pop them into an amber jar and store them away in the back of the pantry cupboard, where they will sleep away the winter with dreams of bright yellow blossoms next spring.

Now, you could try this with any squash, but those that come from the grocery store are unlikely to germinate, and even if they do, there is no guarantee they will breed true. Organic ones would have a better chance, if you want to give it a try, though. Good luck to those who save seeds!

Friday, October 21, 2011


I'm not a huge laundry fan, to be honest. I don't really like doing it. However, when I do it, I know that it's clean, and I know where it's been. That makes it worth it. That and sis's smile when she realizes she doesn't have to do anything when she gets home from work! Moving to the new Freehold didn't have a washer or dryer, and that left me in a quandry. We simply couldn't afford to keep washing at the laundromat ($30 a week?!) and so we bit the bullet. Gray got us a beautiful Maytag washer that is HE and does all sorts of things automagically like sense how much clothing it has so it doesn't waste water! I love it, and the clothes come out of it feeling REALLY clean with 1/3 of the detergent we were using previously. He also resurrected our ancient dryer, which had lingered in the barn at Hinsdale for 3+ years, and breathed new life into it. A bit of rustoleum later and we had a great washer and dryer, working and being put to use.

I've done about 20 loads since arriving here (not only our regular laundry but everything that had been in storage since last spring had to be washed to get the musty smell out of them) and had absolutely no problems whatsoever. I admit that the dry laundry for folding had been piling up in recent days, but at least it was all clean! And then yesterday, the Horrible Thing happened. The dryer stopped.

It was in the middle of a load, had been running fine with no noises or complaints, and the lint screen had just been thoroughly cleaned. One minute it was running, and the next... silence. That is NOT a sound one wants to hear with a load in the dryer and one in the washer and three waiting to be run. Oy.

I've come to terms with doing laundry, really I have. I do it, I even fold clothes most of the time. What I truly despise, though, is line dried stuff. I HATE stiff towels and crinkly jeans. HATE HATE HATE!!! I cannot understand why anyone would hang anything to dry when they have a perfectly good dryer indoors. I do a lot of green stuff, recycle, do what I can for the environment, avoid cleaners that are bad for people and the world, keep a garden, do canning... and all that could easily be considered my guilt payment for my dryer, because you can take away my dryer when you peel it away from my cold, stiffening body.

You can imagine my look of distress when I hunted Gray down. "The dryer stopped," I informed him, a look of grim grief upon my face. He wasn't quite sure why that was so upsetting until I explained to him that the dryer had stopped mid-cycle and wouldn't go anymore. I tried different settings, vacuuming out the lint area, speaking nicely to it... I even thought to offer it spring water and barley, but nothing was making it return to life.

Gray slowly gathered his "household surgery" tools and took my precious baby apart. He poked and prodded, and let me know that it wasn't a fuse (house OR dryer), and then did some experimentation. At one point the dryer roared back to life and I squealed happily. My joy bubble was burst when he explained that he had to order the part that he had just bypassed. Luckily it was still available, but it will take 5-7 business days to arrive.

I sobbed bitterly as I attempted to figure out how to hang the various loads of laundry that were already wet. There is a pull-out clothes line on our covered and screened porch, and after some finagling I managed to get it up (with Gray's help). I spent the better part of an hour hanging things on that plastic line, and I sort of found a bit of peace in it. At least the clothes were clean, right? That's when the clothes line snapped and all my clean laundry fell down on top of the dirty boxes and the garbage.


All the clothes were rescued, and set to hang in the two bathrooms on the curtain rods. Then the next load went up on the doubled outdoor laundry line, which I jury rigged to get working again. Of course the few minutes I had allotted to laundry in my daily schedule were now LONG past. I rushed to get the vacuuming done and to set up the other things that needed my attention. The next thing I knew, sis was walking in the door and I hadn't even started making dinner! Thank heavens she understood... we went to McDonald's and grabbed burgers for everyone, which was less than economical and not nutritionally great, but at least everyone was fed (and I didn't have dishes to do, either!). Whew.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Slowly Moving Forward (and IN)

The view of the road from the beach.
Up the road from our new home, about a five or six minute walk, there is a beach. During the summer months, they shut down the road with cement barriers, and truck in sand to cover it all up, providing the children and locals with a massive, soft sandy beach that seems to stretch on forever. In the fall, when school starts up, they push all the sand back onto the beach and open the road to motorists. The beach itself is still open, though, and on Monday I took the children there. It was 80F and sunny, probably the last "Indian Summer" day to enjoy the water. It was cold as anything, but they paddled about, swam, had a fun time. I took along my fold up beach chair, and just sat in the sand and watched the play. The brightly colored leaves belied the warmth of the air, a hint of the autumn that is both here and coming. Winter won't be far behind.

The view of the lake.
I did stick my toes in the water, but it was too chilly for me. I don't think our children actually feel the cold, though, because they plunged in like it was bath water. I think the sheer excitement of being able to WALK to the beach overcame their sense of frigidity. It was so peaceful down there. The occasional car went by, but mostly it was just quiet wind, the sound of some kids playing off in the distance, and the lapping of the water against the beach. Even though I'm still suffering from my cold, it was nice to just SIT there. I wasn't unpacking (or packing), cleaning, sorting, or anything else. I didn't even really read the book I brought with me, although I sat it in my lap. I just watched them build sand castles and counted my blessings.

Our front door
I must say, I do love the look of our new front door. With the steps the way they are, we were able to put sis's mums there, as well as the giant pumpkins the children wormed out of her. The little watering can in front is also sis's, and looks very charming sitting on the bottom step. Soon the pumpkins will be carved (and I'll be making roasted pumpkin seed snacks!), but for now it's just a beautiful fall display.

On another plus side, our children are completely enamored of this neighborhood and their new school. They have already made friends, have people to sit next to on the bus, and are eager to be out of the house each morning. It's gratifying to have children who are so eager to go to school that they are willing to skip lunch to get back in time!

The family room
Our house is coming together and beginning to become a home. The "family room" is slowly transforming from "space where we dropped things" to "our television and hang out room." There is a rip in the carpet, from where a badly sewn seam came apart, and so we put down our large blue carpet to cover it up. I think it actually lends a kind of "room within a room" feel. We have our television set up, with cable and HBO and all that, and a couple of chairs for lounging in. Now we just need a cheap but cute sofa, perhaps a futon, and we'll be set in there.

The dining room
Other than the shocking pink walls, the dining room is looking pretty good, too. I turned the table around so that the fold-down leaf is on the outside, allowing us to turn the table larger for each meal, but also reducing the general size of it when it might possibly attract junk. The table fits nicely in the space we have, and has potential for being enlarged into the living room (parlor, adult space) if we have many people over for food. We are hoping to get some wallpaper for the walls soon, maybe in a cream or off-white color with red and blue highlights. We'll probably stick with country type patterns, because that's what we like.

I've always wanted to do one of those "before and after" shots, and now I finally have my wish! This was our living room early this morning. It was full of sleeping pads, computer carcasses, laundry baskets, big boxes full of yet-to-be-built end tables, and a ton of boxes and bins. I was home alone all day today, and not feeling well to boot, so I put myself to the task of finding the living room under all that clutter and moving junk. I pressed the air out of the sleeping pads and rolled them up, moved all the computer bits to the office space, put away all the laundry, and did a lot of assembling. I'm rather proud of myself, even if I did have to take the second end table apart twice because I put it together wrong.

And this is the same living room a few hours later. I turned the rug around, tucked it under the couch legs, cleaned up all the clutter, and have the finished tables at either end of the couch. It looks great, and I'm thinking people around here will be happy with the results. I'm tired now, ready for a shower and dinner, and a nap. Still, we're making progress.

The backyard will, in the next couple of weeks, be getting a leaf composting area put in. The previous owners left behind a dog run, the stakes and wire of which I will use to create a nice 5' diameter area for containing the multitude of fallen leaves around our home. Hopefully they will compost into some very nice soil that can amend whatever goes into our raised beds next year!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Exhaustion sets in...

Well... let's see. We're in the new house, and it's becoming home, which is awesome. The image above is of the boy twin sitting on a chair in the corner of the dining room. Please excuse the painfully bright pink walls - those haven't been changed yet, but soon will be. I PROMISE. You can see the beautiful picture window, though, and our snug little table. You can also see the folding chairs which are replacing the kitchen ones we've not yet found among our things. However, we do have the rug down, and we know the color of wallpaper we're going to use to hide those shocking pink walls!

Today, the kitchen got brought into order. Our old dryer, which has sat dejectedly in the barn for 3 years, is now hooked up and working (thanks to CTJ for fixing it!). The top was rather rusted, although the innards were just fine, so I took a can of white rustoleum to it this afternoon. Two coats of it later, it looks almost as good as new.

After seeing the positive results of the paint on the dryer, I decided to try it on the handles of our fridge. During our three years with T&L, the fridge handles become so filthy that the dirt would no longer come out. I tried scrubbing, bleaching, even using CLR. Nothing worked. You know what, though? A little bit of white spray paint made it look almost like new! I took the paint to a few of the dings and dents in it, and it really does look fantastic. I'm glad - there is a LOT of bad blood over that fridge, because it's an incredibly expensive one that we babied, and that other people broke. I feel better now that some of its hurts are covered up.

I re-did sis's room entirely, from the ground up. We took every item out of the room, and I scrubbed it from ceiling to floor. I took off the blinds and bleached the holy heck out of them, then re-hung them. I swiped the windows, scrubbed the sills, then put her bed together and reassembled everything. Now she has her bed, her side tables, a lamp, and even her clothing is hung in the closet. I also put my dry sink (minus the marble top) in her room to set the television on until her dresser makes it here. She was really surprised when she got home, which was rather gratifying. The whole thing just killed me, and I was exhausted.

I also vacuumed and mopped the entire "formal" room, which was good because sis stopped and picked up the new rug we got for in there. It got unrolled and it looks marvelous there. I'm sure there will be pics coming.

After spending the vast majority of the day cleaning things, I sat down to watch Lion King with the family. It was nice to just... sit. My ankle is acting up something fierce. However, I got a lot done, and that feels good. I realized at about 9:30pm that I hadn't made the hamburger soup I'd meant to, and so I browned up the meat and threw the ingredients into our brand new crock pot (see above pic!). Thanks to sis's friend MW, we got some more veggies from the local co-op farm. You can see many of them swimming in the soup there: leeks, celery, potatoes, carrots, and a tomato (though you can't really see that because I also added a can of Mexican crushed tomatoes, because it makes the soup taste so yummy). It'll simmer all night and be ready for a quick and hearty lunch tomorrow. I love crock pots!

I am now going to bed. My hair is finally dry (I didn't get to shower today until almost 10pm), and I need to go fall over. Soon, the garden planning for next year will begin. I have a yard full of leaves to rake up into a compost corral, and raised beds to mark out, and a lawn to mow!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Freehold Update

It appears that the last stumbling block on our journey to purchase our new Freehold has been passed. Hooray! The house that we found in April, the house highly recommended by our realtor for a number of reasons, is probably going to officially be ours on Friday of next week. It's about time! I'm glad we managed to get this done by now, although I admit I wish very much that we'd gotten in with time to allow for a fall garden. Still, at least I have time now to prepare spots for the spring garden, and that's something!

The new house is sort of grey and blue, fairly pretty, and L-O-N-G. It started out as a small, two bedroom house back in the 40s, with a detached garage. Sometime in the 70s or so, the garage was attached to the main house via a breezeway of sorts which is insulated and also has 3 small bedrooms above it (the peaked windows you see in the picture there). The garage has a cement floor (it needs some work but is certainly usable immediately) and some insulation. There's a hallway between the garage and the house, providing a buffer space for those wanting to go out. Think of it as a sort of airlock.

The body of the house has office space, a living room, a "parlor" (or at least that's what we're calling it), a dining room, the two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a beautiful screened in porch. In the pictures, you can see that the grass is a bit overgrown, and that the bushes are sadly in need of trimming, but really it's not all that bad. The previous owners obviously loved it, and the upstairs bedrooms are all done in pine and cedar with built in dresser drawers, desks, and book shelves. It smells heavenly. We especially like the screened porch, because it will be a wonderful place for us to have friends over for dinner (the porch is actually larger than the dining room LOL). We will be able to eat without bugs, still be in the fresh air, and the kids can play and be loud in the yard without bothering us.

There isn't much of a backyard; it's basically a strip of land behind the house about 2 yards wide. It was previously (badly) fenced in for a dog, it appears, but we'll be taking down the fencing immediately. The front yard, on the other hand, is gorgeous. All the pictures you see are taken from the driveway, which is long and semi-circular, providing a perfect place for children to ride bicycles, run races, or do chalk drawings. Beyond the driveway there's another equally beautiful strip of grass and flower garden before you come to a strip of mature maple and fir trees, hiding us somewhat from the (very not busy) road beyond. Despite being "in town" instead of rural, this house has the feel of being very private, very separate. Behind the house is a 25 acre tract of land that has nothing on it but trees. We'll be checking with the owners, but it appears that local kids play there unhindered. There are enough maples on our property to allow me to make a good year's supply of maple syrup come spring thaw.

Because I no longer have a tractor with tiller, a full acre to play with, or the other people to work with me, I'll be creating a different type of garden on our Freehold. We'll still have our chickens (the one neighbor close enough to be bothered by them used to own her own chickens years ago and loves the idea of being able to see them), although I have to get new babies come spring. It'll be a full year before  I get to have fresh eggs again. Still, it gives us time to get a pretty little hen house put together.

A lot of my garden ideas are coming from an internet friend, the Thrifty Mama of Adventures of a Thrifty Mama on a Trailer Park Homestead. Instead of growing OUT I'll be growing UP. I'll be using raised beds, hopefully (and slowly, as these are expensive) using galvanized water troughs. The basic idea is that in using these, you water from the bottom rather than the top. This means there's much less evaporation, no worry about burning your precious plant leaves, and apparently much less in the weed department, too. You don't have to stoop to weed or pick, and it's more difficult (though never impossible LOL) for ground critters like squirrels or slugs to get into your veggies. Our whole family loves the look of these, and you can paint them any color. We'll be trying to buy one or two a year, and set them up. Until we get enough, I'll use traditional wood-bound raised beds and a modified "square foot garden" technique for close planting.

Because we have the long driveway, we're also going to be putting in several fruit trees along it. These will provide us with fruit, and also with shade and privacy. There's already one mature apple tree, although I need to do some rather severe trimming on it before spring comes. It's overgrown and a few of the suckers have become major branches that aren't really bearing well. The sad part is that the one branch that is providing LOTS of apples is going to have to come down because it's way too tall. We might not get many apples next year because of the severity of the pruning, but the tree will be much healthier for our love and care. We snagged one of the low hanging fruit for a taste test the other day (the apples are just coming ripe now) and the flavor is indescribable. It's tart and yet sweet, a yellow apple that I believe is a yellow delicious variety. Even the small ones on the tree this year can be used for making applesauce and pies, and I'm already thinking about Thanksgiving dinner with a fresh home baked apple pie on the table. YUM!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where we are... where we're going!

The boytwin, learning science!
This truly has been a very wonderful summer, so far. Sis and the kids have spent much of their time at the beach, sometimes with me and sometimes on their own. We've been to a science museum in Springfield, MA where the kids got to see life size dinosaurs, live animals, and lots of stuff on geology and plate tectonics. The children have been very much children this summer. They've run around in bathing suits the vast majority of the time, and have gone into the house each night covered in bug bites and dust or mud depending on the weather. They've been exhausted and smiling and full of fresh air and sunshine!

Sis, clowning around.
There has been a lot of paperwork to do in regards to our (hopefully) new home. We've made a bid on a place which is a bit farther away from church and sis's work than we wanted, but is much closer to where Gray can work and also right on a nice, local beach. It's "in town" but fairly private because of the layout of the land. It's a LOT smaller than we wanted (less than an acre), but I am taking heed of the inspiration gathered from other bloggers (you know who you all are!) who garden and feed their families on much smaller lots. There's room for fruit trees and raised beds, and that's what counts, right?

The author, hard at work...
It's our hope to be moved in and settled by August 15th, which may be hoping for too much, but what the heck. If you shoot for the moon, at least if you miss you'll fall among the stars! Time is pretty crunched, but we're trying to be ready for anything. I'm at the parsonage, but sis and Gray are still at the old house, and they have to be out by August 1st. This could cause some minor havoc, but we're managing. We really hope that timing will work itself out and everything will come together seamlessly. Of course we're also preparing for the worst. There's no sense setting ourselves up for failure, after all!

The backhoe at work.
In the process of preparing to move our things to a new home, we're also preparing to store certain things for an unknown length of time. Since we don't know for sure what our moving date will be (or even whether we will get this house... it's still a guessing game!), we're preparing a site on our friends' land to hold one of those temporary garage shelters. Into this we will place all our boxed goods, minus the few things we need to survive until we move in. The start of this process is once again using the handy backhoe to clear and level a place. This has, as you can see, included moving some rather large stumps out of our way...

Moving debris out of the way.
Thank heavens Gray is well versed in using his big boy toy by now. He's gotten to the point where stumps like the one pictured above come popping out of the ground seemingly without any work on his part. He's taken out a couple of stumps that literally caused the backhoe to tip backwards, its front (steering) wheels completely off the ground by two or more feet! Luckily, he's pretty good at recovering from such things. With his capable hands at the controls, the big field of messy sticks and stumps left behind by messy loggers has become a clear and mostly level spot with a gravel road leading right to it, one which our van and any truck can navigate with ease. Now we just have to put gravel onto our "foundation" and level it, and we'll be ready to install our shelter and move our things!

So much is going on, but almost all of it is up in the air right now. Our first tomato is growing, and I'm hopeful we might actually get a few from our potted "garden". Only a handful of peppers and the potted tomatoes survived, unfortunately, so that's our whole harvest for this summer. I'm disappointed, but I'm also looking at this as an opportunity to spent the autumn and winter preparing for a well-planned and laid out garden next spring and summer.

I'll leave you with this wonderful video of our girltwin, learning how to use the great big backhoe!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Farmland and flooding

That is a NASA satellite image of the Mississippi River in March and on May 4th or thereabouts. That's scary. They've opened every dam they can, and they've blown levees in order to try and save Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And yet... I have to ask...

And please note, anyone who lives in those cities, I wish you no harm, nor do I think you are the least bit wrong in trying to save your city. If I were in your shoes I'd be doing exactly the same thing! But in trying to look at the bigger picture, I DO have to ask...

How do we reconcile this? People can move, and cities can be rebuilt. Yes it's expensive, and it's damn inconvenient, and this is a terrible tragedy. But that farm land you see being engulfed by the water? We can't move that! Every field that gets flooded is one less that is growing food to feed me and you and the people in New Orleans. We've chosen to save the people (who, frankly, can load up in buses and go elsewhere) and drown the land (which provides food for all those we've just saved... except now it doesn't).

I see thousands and even millions of acres of prime farmland, farmland that feeds a vast majority of the United States and even other countries, disappearing beneath silt and mud. With the coming of the water, we're not just seeing the possible degradation of the soil (as a matter of fact, the yearly flooding of rivers was one reason farmers chose to plant along them, because silt is a great fertilizer), but the drowning of plants already growing.

I'm scared. Last year, I'd have been nervous but ready. I had an acre worth of garden planted, and food on the vine ready to preserve. I had hundreds of pounds of our own produce taken out of our farm and put into freezer, jar, drying rack... This year, because of the timing of our move to the new house and because of my broken ankle, I don't have a garden. A few tomato plants in pots is just not going to make up for a million acres drowned. And so I'm scared, because I don't know that my family can afford the inflated prices that all that underwater farmland is going to cause.

Because you know that the more scarce an item, the higher the price. Some people like myself were watching prices inch up long before the flooding, but this is the worst flood we've seen since 1927, according to some. That corn you see in the right hand image? That was your corn chips, your bag of frozen kernels, your Reddenbacher popcorn, your breakfast cereal, and a million other things. Now it's just rotting in the fields. When the waters recede, they might leave behind rich silt and fishy fertilizer in the soil, but that won't help us for two full years. What do we eat in the meantime?

I look at our little 5 acre plot we just purchased, an acre of which is filled with house, barn, and other such buildings... and another couple of acres which are fully and thickly treed and which we will not clear because it will provide us with wood for our heat and cooking. It's not going to be enough if the food is as short as I'm afraid it will be.

Are you prepared?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pretty pots, all in a row...

Well, several rows, actually. Those are my beautiful tomato seedlings! There are two varieties here. In the red containers are Bloody Butcher tomatoes, which are my meaty ones for sandwiches. They're an organic heirloom variety, but one that has continued being produced up to the present day by local farmers (and, I assume, those around the country). There are 12 pots of these, 8 in red pots and 4 in blue because I had overflow. In the green pots (and remaining blue pots) are my San Marzano paste tomatoes, an indeterminate variety which produces a lot of medium meaty fruits for sauces and canning. There are 12 of these, as well, thinned from as many as 3 seedlings in the cell to the one strongest. I'm very pleased with how well these came up, because I used no artificial light and no heat at all. I just stuck 'em in the window and prayed a lot. Apparently that works!

How do I know it works? Because these perky li'l guys are the thinnings. Yes, I managed to thin them out with roots intact in almost every case. Friends of ours didn't get a chance to plant seedlings this year (they're in the moving frenzy as well) and so I said if I managed to get any thinnings I would give them the best. Well, I got 12 Bloody Butcher thinnings and 4 paste thinnings, all of which seem to have survived the transplant. I put them into this black container because I thought it might be a better thing to hold them until they're picked up (black holds the heat and it also is high enough to keep the worst of the VERY strong wind off them). All in all, I'm very pleased with my work today.

My iceberg lettuce needs to be in the ground, too, as it's overgrown and wilty in its little cells. I found an old used milk carton (big plastic thing with holes on all sides and the bottom) that I hope to transform into the lettuce bed. The idea is to put a plastic garbage bag in the box, then fill it full of dirt. I'll poke holes in the bag through the carton's holes, about an inch above ground level, to allow drainage of the dirt but also allow a space for water pooling down below, to encourage root growth and combat container-dry-out. I'm thinking the container I found (which isn't a traditional square one but a rectangular one) will probably house all 8 lettuces that survived without any problems. We'll see!

The zucchini are doing very well in their new pots. I've watered them a few times and they're perky and green and growing. I'd like to get them in the ground soon, but until we move, they'll have to wait in their pots. In the mini greenhouse, I have cucumbers left (only five made it) and green peppers which are only just now starting to come up.

What I want to do with the cukes and peppers is to put them into a children's wading pool and grow them there. The idea is to get a used kid's pool, make holes about 2 inches up from the bottom along the sides, and fill it with decent quality dirt (we have access to well rotted and composted manure). Then you plant the cukes down the center and we put one of our metal frames over them (so they can grow up) and plant the peppers in the two halves of the pool on either side.

I've seen a few gardens online done this way, and it intrigues me. People grow tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, flowers, beans, and all other manner of vegetables in these pools, and often you can get them for free when people's kids outgrow them or they get a little crack (which we don't mind!). For people who don't have good ground, or for roof top gardens in cities, this is a great answer to garden space. I like it for this year because, with my broken ankle, I'm not going to be able to walk around a whole garden. However, if I have a couple of milk cartons, a few pots, and a wading pool to tend to just outside the kitchen door, I should be able to take care of things largely on my own.

The other thing I want to do is make one of these hanging herb containers. Basically you take a dollar store shoe holder and fill the pockets with soil, then plop in your herbs. I've seen a few YouTube videos on this technique, and it seems both fun and practical for someone who can't be going all over creation to snip herbs.

In a lot of ways, moving to this new house makes me feel like we're taking a step back. After all, this is the third summer, the year when the strawberries at our current house are ready to eat. And this is the year that my asparagus is edible, too, after 2 summers of hard labor and care of it. Instead of us eating them, our roomies will get to reap the rewards of my hard labors, and it stings a bit. I'll be back to square one, making a brand new strawberry bed and a brand new asparagus bed, which we won't get to touch for another 2 years. Maybe even three years, if I can't get them into the ground before mid-June.

Still, we're moving to a house that is much better suited to us. There's more room for everyone (and less people to share it!), and there's space for activities. There isn't as much land, but there's enough room for a garden and orchard to keep us fed, as well as a bit more for chickens and some animals. The house is in better condition than this one, and the few problems are being fixed by contractors before we even move in. We'll have no repair worries for years, maybe never if we pay attention to upkeep well enough. It has two barns, a couple of mature fruit trees already there, and lots of woods. It's on a country road, gravel in type, and so we never have to worry about cars going fast (we're in the middle of a long gravel and dirt road, so anyone going 'fast' would lose their transmission before they reached us lol). There are lots of other kids around, and a YMCA camp within walking distance. There's a local lake, fishing holes, town festivals, and best of all, we have friends who already live in the area.

Sometimes it's three steps forward, two back. This is our moment for "two back" but I know the three forward are coming. We just have to be patient!