Sunday, December 27, 2009

Making lists

I love to make lists.  These are actually 2 older lists that were sitting on my desk.  I seem to always have several going at the same time.  There are small pads of paper all over the house.  I'm not the best housekeeper, so very often they will be found under furniture, in piles and other places that they get lost in. 

With the New Year coming, the lists start to take on the form of goals for the year.  I've given up on formal resolutions, instead I make lists of things I'd like to accomplish over the year.  If  few of those things get done, then I've been successful.  As you might imagine, many of those goals have to do with gardening and the other things I do to simplify our lives.

I find the more that we pull away from the life that we once led, the longer my lists get.  It is funny that we call it simplifying.  I find it so amazing that these things were commonplace not so very long ago, and still are in many cultures around the world.  How did we go so far in such a short period of time?  Now it's considered strange to try to simplify. 

I'll be posting lots of those lists in the coming weeks.  I'm thinking that many of my goals will be placed in the side bar to keep better track of.  That should keep me honest.  Since there are lots of categories in my lists as well, I'll probably do separate posts on many of them.  How is your list making coming?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Remains of the Day

The wrapping and ribbons, boxes and bows.  This is all that remains of all the money spent, thought put into gifts, wrapping carefully done.  The kids happily ripped open their gifts, thrilled when Grandma and Grandpa arrived with more goodies.  We really try not to go overboard.  The kids get 3 presents each from us and 1 from Santa.  However, there are also gifts from the grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Overall, we seem to have a far smaller Christmas than most, but still quite impressive.  The kids can really enjoy their gifts when they aren't so overwhelmed.   When Noah was little, we used to go a little overboard.  He never really enjoyed it.  He would open a gift and then be irritated that we wouldn't let him play with it, because there were so many more to open. 

I've thought for years on the wrapping paper issue.  My family has always saved boxes, gift bags, ribbons and the like.  We also tend to be rather crafty as well, I keep thinking that we should make fabric gift bags to use for family gifts.  My thought was to use up the rather large pile of wrapping paper first.  I had a nice box set up to throw all the paper in for recycling.  Then Hubby informed me that there was a large sign in front of the paper recycling at the dump prohibiting any wrapping paper.  Huh?  For whatever reason, it must all be put into the trash.  What a waste.  I guess the wrapping paper will last virtually forever now, waiting to be used on non-family gifts.  Next year I'll be wrapping everything in fabric.  Sometimes, I just need a little push.  How was your holiday?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.  I'll be back soon to talk about New Year's resolutions and goals for the upcoming year.

Monday, December 21, 2009


The chickens have not enjoyed the snow so far.  Before I got them, I did lots of research.  Chickens do well in the cold, many times much better than in the heat.  I read of people with chickens scurrying around in the snow looking for goodies.  I also read up on chicken tractors and what was best.  Yeah right.  They lie I tell you! 

My chickens wanted to stay inside all day.  This would be fine if there was a way to have food and water for them inside.  The tractor that J built (and heavily researched) does not allow to have water inside.  The water freezes and before freezing it gets filled up with shavings and straw.  Utterly useless.  I can put food in there, but not water.

So we needed to get them outside.  We worked very hard to get the majority of the snow out of their run.  This got a few of them out for a few minutes before running back inside.  Mind you there is no heat inside, except from their bodies.  This morning they were still huddled inside squawking their disapproval.  I got another bright idea and spread shavings over the snow.  This gave their little toes something warmer to walk on.  They didn't care.  One or two would come out and go right back in. 

At this point I was getting very frustrated.  I don't want to lose these birds!  So I went outside and forced the issue.  I opened up the top and pulled each and every one of them out and placed them in the run by the food.  Food!  Water!  They were ecstatic and quiet for the first time in 2 days. 

Then I took a picture and the shutter scared them back in.

Silly birds.  At least they know its there now.  I may have to repeat this process a few times until they get it, but at least I know what to do now.  Hopefully they'll be ok.  One thing is for certain, J will be building a full sized coop with an adult sized yard next year.  It will also have food and water inside.  You live and you learn.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It just keeps coming.

Here is my compost pile.

This is the back of the house.  On the sides are the bulkheads and in the middle are the air conditioners.  Just to give you some perspective, the taller air conditioner comes to well over my waist.

These are J's back steps.  Can you see how high the snow is on the steps?

The chickens are a little freaked out about the snow.  It took J and I a bit to get the snow out of their run so that they would come out.  They came out for a few minutes and went right back inside.  J and I have decided that chicken tractors are not meant for people who get this much snow.  I was crawling around on my hands and knees in the snow trying to brush it out while J lifted it.  Next spring a bigger coop will be built in the backyard.   That is J's very overworked snow blower.  Thankfully it was fluffy snow so it was pretty easy for me to shovel myself. 

The Weather Outside is Frightful

This is the scene from my back door this morning.  I woke up and realized that I have a dog that needs to get out in this and chickens that I need to be able to get to.  Then I questioned why I would have these animals in the first place.  Finally, I just put my boots on and went out in the mess. 

We have at least a foot so far, but its hard to tell since its blowing so much.  The snow in the backyard was consistently over my knees as I was shoveling out to the girls.  Toby thought it was just for him to play in.  He loves the snow and hops around in it like a puppy. 

When I finally made my way to the chickens, they were hiding out in their house.  We had put plastic on the side of their run that usually gets the wind, of course this time it came from the other side.  The result is that there is quite a bit of snow in there and they don't want to come out in it.  The ramp leading down from their house has about 4 inches of snow on it and its no better on the ground.  I ended up tramping back out with some smaller feed and water containers that we used to use when they were smaller.  That should get them through until the snow stops this afternoon.  When I opened up the coop they were all complaining about it.  Poor girls.  They seemed nice and toasty inside though.  Chickens give off quite a bit of heat. 

Now, I'm going to sit and have a cup of tea (or several) and watch the rest of the storm unfold.  It looks like we'll be close to 2 feet when all is said and done. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Breakfast

At my house, its the season for baking.  One of our favorite breakfasts is Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread.  It is so yummy, I just can't stand it.  We have friends who beg for it and one of Hubby's lieutenants who asks for it every time he sees me.  This stuff is good toasted, or not, with butter, cream cheese, or plain.  It's just good.

My trusty helper was on her chair ready to help as soon as she heard the baking cart come out.  Her new favorite thing to do is to hand mix as much as possible.  She hates having to use the stand mixer, it's too much fun to play with it.  This is a bread that I have always made with all white flour, but I've been thinking of trying it with whole wheat. 

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

3 C milk
1/3 C oil
1/3 C honey
1 T salt
2 T yeast
7-8 C flour (I use King Arthur)
1 1/2 C raisins
2 C brown sugar
2 T cinnamon

Heat the milk until about 115-120 degrees.  In a mixing bowl combine milk, oil, honey, salt, yeast and 2 C flour.  Beat for 2-3 minutes until well combined and creamy.  Add remaining flour and raisins and knead for 8-10 minutes.  I do this in my kitchen aid with the dough hook, but it could certainly be done by hand.  The dough should be soft and rather smooth.  Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel.  Put the bowl in a warm place ( by the fridge is good at my house) and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. 

Punch down dough and transfer to counter.  Lightly press the dough out into a large square and cut into 2 pieces, leaving 2 rectangles approximately 8 inches wide by 12-16 inches long.  Mix together brown sugar and cinnamon.  Divide between loaves and spread on each half.  Spread it evenly, leaving 1-2 inches at one end without sugar.  Start rolling from the end that is fully covered in sugar, ending with the end without sugar.  Tuck in the ends and place in well oiled bread pans.  Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for another hour or so, until loaf is puffing nicely out of the pan. 

Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes, covering with foil if the loaves are getting too dark.  Immediately remove to a cooling rack.  Do not slice for at least 15 minutes, this is a soft bread and will crush easily.  Try not to gobble the whole thing up immediately. 

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do.  I'll add that when my mother used to make a similar bread she would glaze it with a powdered sugar and water glaze.  In my mind that is just overkill and the glaze tends to burn in the toaster, so I skip it.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking back

This time of year is the perfect time to reflect on our year and what we've done.  My parents have always written a Christmas letter detailing what the family has done and this year was no exception.  I always find it interesting to see what my Dad has decided to write about.  This year I have apparently become a Hayseed.  I'm not sure what exactly this means in my Dad's mind, but it appears to be his way of saying that I have a big garden and chickens.  Mind you, my parents have had both as well.  Apparently this never occurred to them.

In any case, it has been a good year.  We did in fact get chickens.  I had been talking about them for years, since we were in 4H and our leader got her first 4 chicks.  J and I had said we wanted to get them and he had the plans drawn up for their tractor.  Somehow, when I got the call from my friend that the chicks were in, it all seemed to soon.  I got them set up in a big plastic tub in the basement.  The kids were beside themselves wanting to hold the chicks all the time.  The neighborhood all had to look and name the girls.  We fretted over Mary and whether she was going to make it.  She did wonderfully of course and now they are happily laying eggs and eating up all manner of leftovers and greens.

The garden was much more manageable for me.  The previous year I had done the major expansion.  My garden plan  was crazy and made it difficult for me to manage the garden.  This year I decided to go back to what I know.  I made 7 beds that are approximately 4x12 or so.  The walkways were lined with boxes from Hubby's computer business.  I started all of my own plants from seed.  This was not the first year for that, but each year it seems that I start more and more seeds.  I tried making seed tapes for my carrots and beets.  The carrots were a dismal failure, but the beets did well. 

We had a crazy summer for weather.  June was cold and rained 26 of 30 days.  Everything was behind and waterlogged.  The tomatoes got blight, but gave me a decent crop before completely succumbing.  The zucchini did exceptionally well, but the winter squashes did nothing.  Due to being ill prepared in the Spring, my peas got planted late.  That combined with our crazy June weather, left us with a much smaller crop of sugar snaps than we would have liked.  The bush beans, however, went absolutely crazy. 

I grew tomatillos for the first time this year.  They produced more tomatillos than I knew what to do with.  After making a green salsa, I decided that we probably wouldn't grow them again next year.  The lettuce loved the wet, cool weather and grew like gangbusters.  I grew a mix from Baker Creek that I really liked.  Morgan thought it was wonderful that Mommy grew a snack for her.  She spent the summer snacking on the lettuce whenever she was out.  The beets and chard did very well, with the chard still going up until last week's snow storm. 

I had a crop of potatoes that I didn't plant last Spring.  The previous year I had planted potatoes that didn't do as well as I would have liked.  Apparently I missed quite a few and I ended up with several hills of potatoes cropping up.  They did pretty well with all the rain we had and I ended up with 10 lbs of potatoes for my lack of work.  The onions did pretty well also, although we only had enough to eat fresh over the summer.  I also planted leeks that grew well.  They didn't get used as much as they should have and probably won't be planted again. 

The orchard expanded as well.  We added another peach tree and 3 more apples.  This brought us up to 5 apples, 2 peach and a cherry tree.  I also added 6 blueberry bushes in the back yard.  These did well, although they are where the kids play and 1 ended up a casualty of play.  The rest look really good and I'm hoping for a good crop of blueberries next year. 

I held canning classes for the first time this summer.  We made Triple Berry Jam and learned how to water bath can.  There was a second set of classes on pressure canning beans, but that was not as big a draw.  We'll see if there is any interest next year. 

In the fall I expanded the garden again.  This time with about 350 sq ft of raised beds.  This will allow me to continue on my quest to raise the majority of my family's fruit and veggie needs.  We've all really gotten hooked on our own veggies, much preferring them to anything else we could buy.

In the same vein, we've really expanded on eating locally this year.  We got half a grass fed cow from a local farmer, chickens from a local butcher and a pig as well.  Our milk is raw milk from a local dairy of pastured cows.  All that, combined with our own eggs, means that well over 90 percent of our protein sources are local and sustainable.  As my kids would say, they're from the nice farmers, not the mean ones.  Our little town started its first Farmer's Market, which was a huge success.  It was great to be able to supplement our garden with fresh, local, organic veggies. 

Its been a great year.  This is my first year blogging regularly and it has been a blast.  I'm looking forward to next year as well.  The list of things I want to accomplish gets longer and longer, but that's half the fun.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Playing Santa's litte baker helper

I love this time of year.  The baking warms up the house and fills it with such delicious smells.  The kids help me cracking eggs, rolling balls and sprinkling sugar.  Then we fill up the plates, pack them in the car and distribute the goodies. 

This year the goodies included Chocolate Chip cookies with sprinkles, Chocolate Sprinkle cookies, Ginger Snaps and Peanut Balls.  I tend to make different things each year, but have to make the Peanut Balls every year.  People fight for them.  I'll post the recipe later. 

Today I'm off for lunch with some friends and their kids.  I'll be delivering some more of the cookie plates to them as well.   Tomorrow night I'm excited for my first cookie swap at a friend's house.  I'll be bringing the Ginger Snaps at her request.  It will be so neat to see everyone's offerings. 

Friday, December 11, 2009


This is Toby.  I've shown pictures of him before, but I thought I would tell you about him.  He is the very sweetest dog in the whole world.  Toby is a full bred Yellow Lab.  We got him from one of Hubby's clients.  Two years ago they got him for Christmas, but after 2 months he was too much for their very busy schedules.  One day Hubby was over fixing their computer and loving on him and they asked if we would be interested.  They knew we had kids and I was home with them all day.  We jumped at the chance.

He came home totally house trained and easy going.  The only issue we've had, is a knee issue.  Its not a surprise for Labs to have this problem, but he is young for it.  Toby is my constant companion.  He follows me wherever I go.  His favorite person is Hubby though.  Hubby plays with him and rough houses the way he likes. 

The kids love to climb all over him and give him snuggles.  The dog is spoiled rotten by everyone.  You can't help it.  He's just too sweet.  My neighbors have said they would get a dog if they could be promised one like Toby.

Its funny, I used to be a cat person.  We always had cats and dogs growing up, but since having Toby, I've changed loyalties to my sweet puppy.  How can you resist that face?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Freaky weather

Today has run the gamut of weather.  We started out with 3 inches of snow.  It then turned to slush and eventually rain.  By evening we had fog and tonight we had thunder and lightning!  In December!  This is insane.  I am assuming all this wild and crazy weather is climate change issues.  It sure is making things interesting around here.  It would be nice to have some normal weather patterns to make it easier to plan things like gardening and the like. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mommy, I don't like the store bought veggies.

That was what my 8 year old told me at dinner tonight.  My gardener's and my mother's heart sang.  We were eating an organic mixed veggie mix from Trader Joes and he kept picking out the green beans and telling me they didn't taste like real green beans.  Well, how about that? 

We then started talking about the fact that I was trying to grow all of our veggies.  The kids have always helped me pick out different seeds for the garden.  We like trying different colored carrots and such.  Tonight we were debating whether it was better to start a permanent strawberry bed, or an asparagus bed.  The kids both like asparagus, but of course picked strawberries.  Hubby picked the asparagus.  I may have to build one more bed. 

The next conversation was the kids listing all the vegetables that were their favorites.  They both ran out of fingers and toes.  How cool is that?  Since my Fedco catalog arrived this afternoon, you know what I'll be doing as soon as I post this. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

For the love of snow

I love the way the snow makes everything shimmer.

Check out who else is strolling over at the Quiet Country House.  

First Snow

This is one of the reasons I love living in New England.  The defined seasons are so joyous to me.  The first snow of the year is magic.  The kids woke up so excited to go outside.  The world was new and beautiful.

As I look around I realize there are still things to be put away.  The snow was a bit of a surprise.  We were supposed to get mostly rain in my neck of the woods.

The chickens were excited too.  We had put up plastic on one side of their tractor the other day.  Its on the side where the wind usually comes from to protect them from drifts in their run.  It appears to have worked perfectly, although we only got an inch or so.

Toby was thrilled as well.  He loves the snow.  His favorite is the deep snow.  Last year he became rather famous on our street as the king of the snow pile.  Every day he would be out on the hill of snow created by the plow.

I'm curious to see how the leeks will do now.  This snow won't last long and we aren't predicted to get anymore for a bit.

The kids may not come in today.  We'll have some hot chocolate and waffles when they do finally make it in.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Time for reading

This is the time of the year that I actually have a few minutes to sit down and read up on things.  I love books, and have a bad habit of needing to own them all.   The picture above shows a sampling of the many books I own.  I love books on gardening, homesteading, preserving, frugality, and well, you get the idea.

At the library yesterday, there was a copy of John Jeavons book, The Sustainable Vegetable Garden.  Its very interesting and extremely detailed.  I need more though.  My library is pretty pathetic these days as a result of budget cuts, but I have lots of credits on 

Some books that I really love are in the picture above.  Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living is amazing.  There is so much information in that book on everything from gardening to being frugal, cooking, preserving and raising and butchering animals.  Just amazing.

I also really love Eliot Coleman's book Four Season Harvest.  It has so much practical information on season extension for your garden. 

The frugalista in me loves The Tightwad Gazette.  Its funny to read it, since although it was written about 15 years ago, the economy was doing poorly then and there were lots of people looking into the frugal lifestyle.  Her basic recipes are wonderful to make something from just about any ingredients you happen to have laying around.  Some things are outdated, but overall its a wonderful resource. 

Some other good ones are Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.  My sister in law is currently borrowing it, so it isn't pictured.  It has everything you ever wanted to know about saving your own seed.  Then there are all the preserving books, like Root Cellaring by the Bubels, Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator cookbook and Ball's complete book of Home Preserving. 

Recently I've been reading more on the local food and sustainability fronts.  Sharon Astyk has 3 books out right now with a fourth on the way, so far my favorite has been Independence Days.  I also really enjoyed Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. 

Please share some of your favorites with me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pumpkin seed saving

When I processed my pumpkins the other day, I decided to save some seeds.  Pumpkins tend to cross rather easily, so this isn't something I would normally do from a pumpkin I didn't grow myself.  However, we picked these at a farm where there was an acre of just pie pumpkins, so I thought it was probably safe. 

Pumpkin seeds. like tomato seeds, have a slimy coating that needs to be removed first.  I started by removing the amount I wanted and placing them in a bowl with a small amount of water.

After a few days they developed a bit of scum on them.  The scum helps to rid the seeds of their coating.  The next step is to place the seeds in a colander and rinse them thoroughly.  They are then put on a plate to dry thoroughly.  You need to dry them a bit more than you might think.  I leave mine on the plate in my kitchen for a few days.

When they are thoroughly dried, you can package them into envelopes or other containers to await planting.  If anyone wants a few seeds, let me know and I'll send what I can off to you.