Thursday, August 30, 2007

Full Circle

I love wreaths. I would like to have a different one over my door for every season. They're so welcoming! I have my Xmas one, of course, and a Halloween one with Kleenex ghosts, but aside from October and December, my front door is wreathless.

At our old house, we had salal, doug fir, and cedar, and I would make a Christmas wreath from fallen limbs after the first fall storm, which usually comes around Thanksgiving. We have cedar here, but no doug fir or salal, and I've taken to buying my Xmas wreath at Costco.

So it's been a few years since I've made a wreath from live material, and I am rather pleased with this one of bay leaves from my garden. I majorly pruned the two plants that flank the shed door, as they had topped ten feet, and want to turn into massive trees. I have enough to make another wreath, and will probably do so tonight. If I were really anal, I would've dried the branches first, making sure all the leaves were pointed in the same direction, but I prefer the loose, two-tone effect.

The Oregon Climate Service came out with its winter weather predictions, and it's looking to be a cold, snowy one again. Hopefully that means we won't have many mosquitoes again. I don't think I've been bit more than twice here at home this year, which is a welcome relief. I love the snow so long as Mr. E and I don't have to drive in it - it's very hilly here, and after the two rush-hour snow events of last year.... Last time I watched the weather very carefully, and told Mr. E when to come home. He made it just as the snow started to stick. How's that for timing? Hopefully he'll listen this year.

So add to my list of to-do items, buying a cord of firewood, and figuring out a way to block up the vents to the crawlspace. Our floors get so cold, my feet freeze unless I have on my very fuzzy slippers, and I'm the only one that has them. Also, protect the rosemary so I don't lose it again. That was painful. I had two three-foot-tall bushes completely dead by spring. Let's see, cover the salad greens with a tunnel cloche, pile up compost around the roses....

It never ends, does it? LOL.

Kind of like a wreath.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm not sure how this happened, but what started out as a compliment, suddenly has become a flurry of guilt-induced activity. The odd thing about it is, the guilt is flying back and forth over 4700 miles and 8 time zones.

Hedgewizard keeps an impressive list of all that is coming from his garden and pantry on his humorous blog. He held a "Delurking Day", so I delurked and dared to say that I hoped to have as productive a garden as his. Somehow that made him feel guilty, and sent him into a frenzy of activity, which he claims is my fault. Guess I should've stayed a lurker?

Of course I feel guilty about setting all this about, even though I didn't mean to. I've been known to put my foot in my mouth before. Being the guilt-driven person I am, I have since cleared the strawberry bed of weeds and runners, replanting where needed, watered all the veggie beds, totally cleaned the kitchen, which looked like a bomb had gone off in it, done three loads of laundry and hung them on the clothesline to dry, restocked the wood shed, and restacked the leftover wood, since the pile had fallen over, and am about to attack the herb garden. And did I mention that it's 86 degrees outside?

I know, us Northwesterners are weather wimps. I can handle cold temps and rain, but heat I cannot bear. Very few of us around here have air conditioning, since there are so few days that we need it. But I suffer when it gets towards 90.

I'm actually enjoying this little bit of summer, since it won't last long. I saw geese flying South today; more signs of fall. I'm anxiously awaiting the Oregon Climate Service's winter weather predictions. Some people think that we're going to have a mild winter after a crummy summer, others think that we're in for another bad one like last winter (floods, windstorm, and snow).

Until then, it's work outside during the sunny days. Even if it's 86 degrees, and guilt-ridden.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Harvest Time

It's really starting to feel like fall now. The weather has turned cold and damp again, and I just picked 14 lbs of apples from our Alkemene (or for those in the UK, Early Windsor) tree. The Akane apples are just about ready, too, although I think I only have a couple of pounds of them this year. My harvest tally is really going up now, having pulled the potatoes this week, too. Now I need to figure out a way to store all of this....

My original goal was to harvest 100lbs of food from our yard. I'm pretty sure I'll make it, since I still have all the tomatoes on the vine, at least 20lbs of acorn squash, 5lbs of cabbages, plus carrots, lettuce, and spinach, and the apples from two more trees (although not as productive as Alkemene). So maybe I'll hit 120lbs or so. Next year, I'm thinking 200lbs would be a good goal. But I think I'll go metric. 100kg? Adding up ounces and pounds is a royal pain, especially since I try to use a calculator as little as possible. Why? It keeps the little gray cells active.

I spent all day out in the yard yesterday. After the week of vacation, and a summer of general neglect, it was time to weed out the veg beds (400sq feet), and the herb beds. I accomplished quite a bit, and it should reduce the amount of weeding that I'll need to do once the rains come and all of the weed seeds germinate. One more day and I should have the edibles beds taken care of. I need to pull out the thyme and replace it, and totally get rid of the horehound. That stuff is nasty, and seeds itself all over the place. And since I've never actually used it, it'll make room for things I will use, like marjoram. I probably won't get to the front yard until after school starts, but we'll see.

I am a convert to mulching. I used some dry lawn clippings on half the carrots and some broccoli. The carrots on the mulched half were larger, and had fewer bug problems, and less weedy. The broccoli had been plagued by fluffy little evil wascawy wabbits. Apparently they don't like stepping on lawn clippings, because as soon as I put down a couple inches of grass, they left those broccoli alone. AHA! Now if I can just keep them away from the peas in the spring....

I know, put up a fence. But I don't want a fence, and the way the beds are set up - 4ft wide beds with 4ft wide path of grass in between - Mr. E wouldn't be able to mow. No, I'll just figure out other means, and keep chasing them off like Mr. MacGregor. I just need the coyotes to come back, and whoever keeps shooting them, to knock it off.

Last night I snuggled with the boys, and read three chapters of Pride and Prejudice to them. If Mr. E can corrupt their minds by introducing them to Rush's music, I can at least try to give them a little culture through good literature, right? They groaned about it before I started, but once started, didn't want me to stop. Thing 1 giggled over Mr. Bennet's comments about his wife and children. Thing 2 commented about the "bad" grammer. I'll see if they want me to read to them some more tonight. Now that there will be no more Harry Potter books, I'll need to find something else to read to them. I've read all of the HP books out loud to the boys, even when they were old enough to read them by themselves. I put in the voices for the characters, and they prefer my reading to the book-on-tape version, except for when my voice cracks during emotional scenes.

Mr. E did a wonderful thing last night. We were at a bookstore, and they had all these Jane Austen books in hardback. I've nearly worn out my Emma, and the others aren't going to last long. So I told him, for Christmas/birthday, I'd like the books in hardback. What do you think he did? Bought me one of each of the books they had to enjoy now! Awwwww. Thanks, honey! I'm missing Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, but he said to order them online. Now I have reading material for cold, blustery nights.

Isn't that what fall is all about? Preparing for winter?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Getting Back in the Swing

Bread! Tuesday I had to make more bread since we were out. Here's what my loaves look like. Half a loaf disappears that first day. Each loaf is a little over 1-1/2 lbs. I figure if I'm to bake all my own bread, we'd need somewhere on the order of 160lbs of flour each year. That's not including the flour for pizza, muffins, and everything else. I'll try and post photos of other things around our homestead, as I take them.
By the way, what is the definition of a homestead? Does my house, acre, veggie and herb garden, strawberry bed, and eight fruit trees count? Or do you have to raise chickens, or something?
Summer seriously throws me for a loop. I miss the routines of the school year. Not school itself, mind you. When I finally manage to get something of a summer routine going, something throws itself in my path like vacation or day camp, and I have to start all over again.

We finally have some sun and warm temps, so I got up at a reasonable hour and got the sheets washed and on the line. Load #2 is on there now. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny as well, and I think I'll try and get the sleeping bags washed and on the line, or at least some of them. My clothesline isn't in the best of places, right behind the garage, and the sugar maples cast shade in the morning, and, by this time of year, the house in the afternoons. Since Mr. E originally didn't approve of my clothesline, I tried to put it in the most non-visible part of my yard. Now he approves, after smelling how fresh the sheets are coming from the line.

Fall is definitely in the air. The vine maples in the woods behind us are red already. Most of the plants are in a state of confusion. The blackberries are just now starting to flower. The lawn is mostly green, even though we've never watered it. Usually by now it's totally brown. I feel like summer hasn't really been here at all. It seems like we've had May/June weather in July and August. Hopefully we'll have a nice Indian Summer. Some years we do, and it's pleasant to go to soccer practice in weather that's not cold and raining, and taking home cold, wet, muddy boys.

Time to check the clothes on the line....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Home Again

We're back from a restful week up North. Now comes the busy time of unpacking everything, doing the laundry, catching up on the garden, the bills, and our friends' lives.

A couple of momentous things happened. Thing 2 caught his first fish! He reeled it in, landed it on the dock, screaming the whole time "I caught a fish!" I was hustling down to the dock, but by the time I got there, the little 6 inch trout wriggled off the hook and jumped back into the lake. Thing 2 was so excited, he was shaking all over. My little boy is Type I diabetic, and he thought his blood sugar was low. I didn't think he was, but had him go test anyway. Welcome to an adrenaline rush, dear. Needless to say, he's now "hooked" on fishing. Every moment he could from then on, he was out on the dock, fishing, for two days after that.

The other momentous thing, was that Thing 2, my cautious son, after his first trail ride of the year, actually wanted to go again. Unfortunately, the second ride was much longer, and apparently the first ride had no galloping for the kids, so he freaked out when they galloped. He stayed on the horse, though, and finished the ride, but he wasn't happy about it. Hopefully he'll remember the good ride.... Thing 1 is doing much better, and if he rides a lot next year, will probably be able to move up with the adults.

I managed to make buttermilk fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy on the cook stove. Yum! I also made pancakes and sausages, and bacon and eggs. I love hot breakfast. I wonder if I should start making it more for breakfast here at home? Thing 2 loves it, I know, but Thing 1 doesn't eat much breakfast, like his father. The crowning glory, though, was making cornbread in the oven. It took 1-1/2 hours to get the stove up to 350F, but it cooked the bread nicely. One of the families cooks a turkey in the oven every (Canadian) Thanksgiving. I'm not that brave. Besides, the stove heats up the cabin so much, I was literally "sweating over a hot stove," and had the door and all the windows open on the cabin by 9:00.

It's very sad to see the state of the forests up there. The pine bark beetle has turned once green forests into swaths of rust-colored death. Global warming has taken away natures checks and balances for the bug. Four consecutive days of -40 temperatures are needed to kill it, and that hasn't happened since 1996. Many places, including where we stayed, have logged off all the pine, since the lumber is marketable for only two years. Thing 1 was very upset, since most of the forest where he liked to play was gone, to be replaced by a huge pile of brush.

The loss of the trees was showing itself in other ways, as well. Every year, a little squirrel runs back and forth behind our cabin, storing pine cones for the winter. It'd be so busy, starting before I got up, making maybe 100 trips each morning. I'd feel guiltily lazy compared to this little creature, storing up winter supplies to get through the long, cold winter. This year there was no squirrel, its food source gone.

Our weather has been very strange for summer. Our usual dry July and August have been cool and rainy. My new clothesline hasn't been used much, and I had to put a plastic tent over the tomatoes, for fear of late blight. I actually started the wood-burning stove yesterday, it was so cold in the house. Mr. E's favorite apple tree is dropping apples three weeks early, and some of the trees in the neighborhood have started turning red. I've heard of tomato summers and cabbage summers. This was definitely a cabbage summer. I'm wondering what this winter will bring. Will the cold weather continue into the winter? Or will temperatures remain mild? Should I store my nuts (sow more veggies) for the winter?

Today I'm doing laundry, and making more bread. I need to find the kitchen after everything got dumped there on Sunday, and I had a disastrous pizza night (what was the deal with the dough? It acted really weird.) I have peaches I need to deal with, as well, and decide if I'm going to can them, make cobbler, or what.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Low-Tech Week

I am frantically making lists and starting to pack for our yearly trip to BC. We rent a cabin at a dude ranch on a lake "up in the Cariboo." It seems like we need to bring a million things (food, kitchen supplies, sleeping bags, hot dog forks), but I am glad of what we are not bringing. No computers, no cell phones, no videos....

The cabin has electricity and a fridge, but no running water - you have to bring it in buckets from a well. There is no tv, no phone, no radio. There is an old-fashioned wood cookstove, which I absolutely love, and it makes the cabin very cozy in the morning.

Early in the morning (I'm usually up by 6:30) I get up and light the pile of paper and kindling that I've laid out in the woodstove the night before. I make a quick dash to the outhouse (45 steps away) in the just-barely-over-freezing temperatures. By the time I'm back, the stove is crackling away. I fill a HUGE kettle with water, and set it on the stove, and add more wood. I wash my face in the 45-50 degree water - if that doesn't wake you up, I don't know what will - and get dressed. I then open up the curtains to the large picture window that looks at the lake, watch the mist rise and listen to the loons call. By now the water is warm enough for a cup of tea, and the cabin is getting warm. When I'm done with my tea, I'll start breakfast, if I'm planning on cooking it on the stove. Bacon and eggs, or pancakes are the family favorites. And one day I even make corn bread in the oven.

After that, it's horseback riding for those that want to, or fishing, or just hanging out, reading a book, knitting. Mr. E will go golfing once with his dad (the in-laws are coming, too, and will be in their own cabin), I'll have an afternoon shopping in town, the boys will catch bugs and build forts in the woods. But mostly it's a time to totally relax, catch up on reading we've been meaning to do, spend some time with each other, and totally de-tech our lives.

We've developed other little traditions. We bring a book on tape to listen to in the car. This year it's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. We won't finish the book, even if we listen to it all the way up and back. So when we come back, we all gather around in the living room with candles burning, and listen to it on the stereo. Hopefully our not-catching-any-fish tradition will end soon. There's a great pub nearby that serves - believe it or not- escargot. And it's really good, too. We'll eat one meal out there. We have to eat at an A&W as well (we call it an "A and W, eh?" but only to ourselves.)

I'm looking forward to it, even though it means a lot of stress now. I need to carry my lists in my pocket so when I remember something like spray oil, I can write it down. No, I don't really need it. Cross it off. Low tech....

See you in a week!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I made three loaves of sandwich bread yesterday afternoon. I found this recipe on A Year in Bread. It's become our family favorite, and I haven't bought sandwich bread in over a month.

There's something satisfying in creating staples like bread, which I've always depended on someone else to make for me. It's so simple, too (not to mention you're able to take out your aggressions while kneading). I think that's why I enjoy knitting, and growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs. One more thing I can do for myself so I'm not so dependent on stores, and their prices that seem to be going up like crazy right now.

Sunday night I stopped by the grocery store for a couple of things. In the doorway were bags of hot dog buns that you can usually buy for $1 when they're on sale. Their sale tag said $2! Then I went to get sour cream, usually $1.50 on sale, normally $1.75. $2 on sale! I thought it might have been that particular store, but when I went to my local warehouse store on Monday, milk had gone from $4.65 for two gallons, to $6! Yikes! I'm sure that it's been creeping up and I've never noticed, but still....

Someone once complained about the amount of time it takes to make bread. I don't think it takes up that much of my time. Of the 3 hours it takes to make, most of the time it is rising or baking, and I'm doing something else then. The recipe makes three loaves, and it lasts us a week and a half to two weeks, so I'm not doing it daily. One gets eaten (last night half of a loaf was gone before it was cool) and two go into the freezer.

Now that I have sandwich bread down, I'm ready to start trying my hand at some of the "artisan" breads that the stores sell at a premium. Pugliese, french bread, sourdough boules.... Or maybe I should start with lowly hamburger and hot dog buns?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Jane, Jane, and More Jane

My "sisters", M and J, and I went to see Becoming Jane last night. I think it would have been an okay movie if I had no inkling of Jane Austen's life. Certainly was a weak script. I think they were trying to be Shakespeare in Love, and trying hard not to look like it, so what came off was a very vanilla script with a couple of cute, albeit predictable, moments. The costumes, though! Ugh. They had every fashion represented from late 1700s to 1840 or 1850. Ridiculous. I had to laugh, though. One of Anne Hathaway's dresses had this little gaping area along the neckline - I had the same problem with my dress. Shoulders back! And get a proper corset for the time period of the dress, please.

I say "sisters," because M , J, and I went to Bath, UK, last September to the Jane Austen Festival. We attended the ball there, thus the aforementioned dress. My husband had written me letters, one for each day in Bath, calling them my sisters, and inventing hilarious histories for them and their husbands (who, in the letters, they were not yet married to). So the "sisters" stuck, at least for me, who has only a younger brother. I'm not sure how they feel about it....

It was J's birthday, and I hadn't been able to get together with the two of them together for a while, so hadn't gotten anything for M's birthday, either. I found a new book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, and got them each a copy. It looks cute, at least. I had to try very hard not to read too much of it in the car while waiting for them at the movie. I only read two or three pages! I'm hoping one will read it quickly, so they can loan it to me. My husband, Mr. E, also got them Jane Austen action figures, after the one M got me for my birthday broke. So now we all have them.

Now to wait for Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park to come out on TV this fall....

Friday, August 3, 2007

A New Beginning

Well, here goes my online diary. I've been writing in a journal for several years now, and thought I'd give it a try online. I've enjoyed so many blogs such as Path to Freedom, Lichenology, and A Year in Bread, and although I can't come close to what these folks do, they have something to aspire to.

Right now things are under construction, so please bear with the mess. I have a digital camera now, and I hope to soon be taking pictures of my accomplishments and failures.

So who the heck am I? I've been trying to figure that out for years! LOL! I'm a stay-at-home mom of two who lives in a pseudo-rural area of western Washington. I enjoy knitting, baking, and gardening our acre. I love reading, too, especially Jane Austen! I'm concerned about peak oil, climate change and sustainablity issues, and am trying to grow as much food for my family as possible.