Monday, August 31, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The 18th week

The school year has begun. In this house it means that hubby is renting a room ,two hours away, five nights a week, until we can figure the housing thang'.

It also means that the Teen ponders what sorts of things he will like to do this year. This fall he will be taking a photography class at the Maine College of Art's highschool program. If we are where we hope to be by January, he is going to take a stained glass class at a local gallery. He will continue his art classes here until he can't. He will help out with critters, firewood and wee one baby sitting for cash until we get settled. He will read everyday and is contemplating an online course through MIT open courseware. Teen also has the opportunity to hang some of his photos at a friend's Burrito shop.

Wee one will be my shadow in the garden and in the kitchen. We are learning about butterflies and catapillers right now. There is one jar with a chrysalis in it sitting over the kitchen sink. As the weather cools and the season's chore subside, I would like to get crafty with the wee one. I have some ideas for some projects that would be fun. We will also be attending story hour at the library every week and return to the open gym time that we went to last winter, until we are all living under one roof again. At which time, I'll find something else for him that will get him some free play and exercise time with other kids.

And all the while the work of the season continues...

Plant: nothing.

Harvest: cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, kale, carrots, beans, peppers.

Preserve: 5 pints salsa, 7 quarts of chicken soup, 13 quarts of potatoes for homefries,1 quart of dehydrated kale, 1 quart of zucchini.

Prepped/ manage reserves: I found 6 quart jars at the thrift store. Sorted out the wee one's dresser drawers and brought out the long pants and long sleeved shirts. Picked up some sheep mineral from a friend for our critters. I am putting the chicken soup in this category as well. Hubby will be away during the week, so I am going to can up soups that he can eat while away. I also want to keep some soup in the back cupboard for cold and flu season. In case the chief soup cooker is ill;)

Local foods: I went to the farmer's market in Farmington and got some tomatoes to supplement my poor tom harvest. I found out that one farmer will have elderberry this season, I want to make wine,jam, syrup and extract out of it.

Eat the food: chicken soup made from our own bird and veggies from the garden. Last night we had rutabaga and cabbage from the garden with barbecue chicken legs, purchased at the farmer's market. The weather cools and there is alot more baking going on. Yummy!

Reduced waste: We are reducing the waste of money. This week we begin our new money management plan. Because hubby will be away during the week we wanted to make sure that, in essence, two households did not know what the plan was for the week. So we sit down every Saturday evening, plan whatever grocery shopping needs to be done on Sunday. Then, figure how much cash we might need for the week. We opened a new account with a credit union that services both regions, but did not get debit cards. Instead we just use ATM cards. This will prohibit those spontaneous purchases that whittle away at the balance. It seems more intentional for us. It is not really a budget. But I think it will be easier for us to reach our long term goals if we don't nickel and dime the bank account.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some days all you need is a little rain.

There is something about a rainy day in August that always has me turning towards September. Perhaps it is the chill, the need for socks and long pants. Perhaps it is the longing for quieter days spent around the home cooking, drinking a warm cup of tea. More likely, it is the coming season peaking around the corner to see if anyone is paying attention.

Hurricane Dan blew through today. A steady rain beat on the roof all day. On the stove top, a big pot of chicken soup was simmering. Hubby took some time to relax and play his guitar. The boys played together with legos. The elder brother teaching the younger the ways of the lego master. Our cares are still heavy and sometimes dominate discussion; today was no exception. But still, we needed the rain to keep us indoors gathered around a table ....just hanging.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The 16th and 17thth week

Well, phew, it is a busy time of the year. We are still trying to figure out our housing for the winter. There are numbers flying everywhere. Some of them not so cheerful. Some downright depressing. It is a sordid story of a bubble that has burst, taking all those folks that did the right thing down with those that tried to get something for nothing. Alas, this too shall pass and we will figure out something.

We have been bitten by blight here. We harvested our potatoes just before we left for vacation; saving the harvest as least. We harvested about 80 pounds of potatoes. But gee, the whole time we were digging them up I was thinking," Just a few more weeks and they would have been so much more." But we will have enough for the winter. The real loss is in the seed. I had been saving my potato seed for the last few years. This past spring we bought 5lbs of seed. We planted about 20 lbs of seed. So about 15 lbs of potatoes from saved seed. Next year we will have to start from scratch and buy much more seed.

The tomatoes have been blighted too. I have trimmed all the leaves off the plants. The fruit looks okay, so I hope to, at least, harvest the toms we have; which is not much. I planted 40 plants, I have harvested 1 red tomato and it is almost September. I asked a farmer at the farmer's market if he could sell me a bushel of "canner" tomatoes. He said that it might be slim pickings and could not be sure he would have any by the next market.

This heat has brought humidity ;which is okay, at least it is heat. But it is going to get autumn-like by the end of the week. Short season. Hope the frost can hold off for another month.

Plant: more spinach

Harvest: Basil, kale, tomato ( just 1), potatoes, paprika peppers, early jalapeno pepper, onions, zuccichini, pole beans, blackberries

Preserve: frozen beans, frozen blueberries, salsa, peach jam, peach wine, dehydrated peaches, blueberry jam, dehydrated dill, dehydrated kale.

Manage reserves/ prep: We hit the duty free shop on our way home from Canada and bought 1 bottle of vodka for herbal tinctures. Strained herbal oils and tinctures. Working on a list for another bulk food order in October. trimmed and re-staked tomatoes.

Eat the food: can one eat too much zucchini?

Local foods: Farmer's market and we bought Ontario peaches when we were in Ontario.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Preserve/ Eat the Food

One quart of dehydrated Peaches
One pint of dried dill
One quart of dehydrated zucchini
Four quarts pole beans frozen
3 pints tomato salsa
4 pints Peach jam
1 gallon Peach wine

It is the thick of preservation season. Tomatoes are ripening, cucumbers are chubby on the vine. Butternut squashes are taking over the yard. I am keeping my eye on the local u-pick apple orchard. There are a few new recipes for apples that I want to try this year. Some of these yearly traditions are new to me and welcomed as the rhythm of this lifestyle becomes ingrained in the work of this season. But other traditions I continue from the elder women of my family.

I remember each Christmas my family would receive a pint of bread and butter pickles from my Aunt Lil'. Her very large garden always seemed so big to my young eyes. The texture of all those leaves and fruits seemed like a quilt on the ground. I never full appreciated the large brown paper bags of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini that would be sent home to my single mother. But now I know just how valuable that gift was.

The "thwuck" of a sealed jar opening at Christmas Lunch is a note of music from early on and that sweet/ tart bite of the pickles was as desired as candy canes in our stocking. When I was a young teen, I have memories of being welcomed into the mystery of how those pickles got in the jar. Initiation to this rite involved the hand slicing of many small cucumbers. It was a coven in the kitchen; each woman, of each generation having their hand in the making of those pickles.

I work over my own cauldron now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Travel Diary

Home. A long car ride home. I ease myself into the rhythm of home life. Get in tune with the news of the day. Catch up on laundry and a pile of mail and a garden , if not bursting, at least providing some bounty.

We arrived home last night. Pulled in around 10:00. The last few days have been a whirlwind with a few more days of hectic pace for me; if not the rest of my family.

Leaving this little corner of the planet and venturing out into the world out there is an odd experience for me. Maine is a pretty rural state. My corner of the state is very rural. The latest fashion in foot wear is still the Croc because they sell them at the nearest general purpose goods store Reny's ( a Maine Adventure!) and because they are a cheap shoe. Out there in the rest of the world, who knows? In my region of the state you use it up and wear it out. If you have a lot of money you don't flaunt it. It is economically depressed. Out there, there is talk of a bad recession but you have to pay close attention to know how it affects what you regularly see.

So several times a year our family venture's out there, happy motoring our way past Walmarts, malls and through congested traffic to visit hubby's family.

During the summer we travel for a few days to The Thousand Islands. Hubby's grandparents bought an acre of island on the Canadian side of the St Lawrence river for 500.00 in 1946. His grandparents built a small cabin on the island in the late 60's. It holds many childhood memories for hubby and is a beautiful spot.

The water is very warm this time of year and the water sports were had by all. Snorkling, swimming, paddling and water skiing. I try to read at least one book during my visit, something light and scandalous. I used to take knitting-for-hire work with me; but after all the hard work I decided to treat myself with some self indulgent knitting. The grand kids get to pay together and the grown ups get to catch up with each other.

There a many blue heron's flying over head. A pair of osprey raise their young on the island across the channel. This year, a pair of mink were frequently witnessed playing near the water. And it would not be an island trip if a swimmer did not get out of the water because a water snake was entering the the swimmer's zone of comfort.It is such a far stretch from the life we lead here in Maine. There is plenty of processed meat, iceberg lettuce, and sweets with colors not found in nature. Makes one grateful for one's foodshed.

We used to travel through New hampshire, Vermont and Upstate New York. But it was a 12 hour ride that often was stretched out when the wee one needed frequent nursing breaks. For the last few years we have been traveling north to Canada, drive to Montreal and head west to Ontario. If the traffic is not bad in Montreal we can make the trip under 10 hours. Crossing over the border is always a story in the making.

There is a car game we play on this trip. We call it "Cow". Both routes that we travelled had plenty of cows. Whoever saw the herd of cows first called "cow" and received a point. The passenger, who knits, always had the advantage of seeing more cows. When the wee one was a newborn we could not wait to share this game with him. This could have been the year we shared this silliness with him. This is not to say that we did not see cattle. But not nearly as much as we have in past years. Most of the cows were actually beef cattle and the herds were much smaller than they were in past years. The dairy and commodity turbulence was evident.

I noticed vast fields of corn and big fields of round bales of hay. Plenty of buckwheat and soybeans. Factory farming hugs the highways while the small family farm struggles on the backroads.

Last year, gas prices were high when we went to the island. We noticed that boat traffic on the river was much slower and sparse. This year gas prices were within the reach of many. We heard many cigarette boats...grumble..grumble...

We make a point if we are traveling during the summer harvest season to bring something home from the foodshed we travelled to. Last year, I brought home a couple of quarts of huckelberries I picked on the island. This year, we brought home Ontario peaches. Who need souvenirs we have peaches in the dehydrator?

It is good to be home. We have hit the ground running. We need to find a home we can all be living in this winter. It was good to be away but boy it sure is nice to sleep in my own bed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The 15th week

Posting will be light over the next week. We will be going away for an extended weekend to visit family. We did not feel as though we could make this trip earlier because there was so much to do. But we have managed to cross a few items off the to-do list and need to take a break. Hubby starts school soon after we arrive home:( This was a short summer.

Snails pace, baby steps seem to be the modus operandi these days. We have a sign in our yard now. But no one has viewed it yet. We have had someone look at our land for sale; but although she expressed great interest she has not made an offer yet. Sigh..hurry up and waint... There are decisions about my employment and housing that we just can't make right now...ahh limbo...

The big green sweater is nearly done but some of it will have to unravelled ( frogged) because stitch count is off significantly.

Stops and starts..

So what is a homesteader to do? Well, there is always food preservation.

Plant: Spinach and broccoli..yippee!

Harvest: rutabaga, zucchini, cucumber, oregano, mint, calendula, basil, dill, carrots,kale, comfrey, garlic, onions

Preserved: pickled carrots, dilly beans, soup carrots, blueberry jam, blueberry wine, frozen blueberries, frozen broccoli, dehydrated kale, 120 heads of garlic, garlic saved for seed, garlic saved for pickling, onions, dehydrated onions, dried comfrey.

Managed Reserves/ prepped: bought cheap vodka for tinctures, bought several boxes of canning lids, ordered on cord of seasoned firewood and one cord of green. SEriously weeded the garden.

Local foods: farmers market, local blueberry farmer, a friend told me of a free place to pick blueberries so we will be checking that out when we return.

Eat the food: cucumbers, zucchini, roasted root veggies

Waste not: We burned old wood in our outside cookstove when I had my canning day and when hubby made a batch of beer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Canning Day

Ping! Sing the canning jars.

I love that sound!

5 quarts of pickled carrots.

6 quarts of dilly beans.

2 quarts and 1 pint of soup carrots.

1 gallon of blueberry wine...

140 heads of garlic curing

The cucumbers are really on the vine. They will be ready for pickles in a few days. The zucchini will be abundant any day now which means the dehydrator will be hard at work.

This is the "good busy" time of year.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2, The 14th week

This update is a couple of days late; that happens this time of year. We are chipping a way at the list of things to do with our home and it is beginning to look "show ready". We have someone very interested in our land. We are crossing all available digits that she will make an offer.

The summer dwindles and the larder is getting fuller. The preserving sanity list grows but a lot of the food stuffs that I preserve for the pantry are not ready yet.

Blueberries are a bit of a problem for me this year. Last year a man in town allowed u-pick in his field for a dollar a quart. The field is not open this year. A friend knows of a field for picking so maybe next week. Otherwise, I will be buying some freezer boxes at 22.50 for about 6 quarts. If I were to buy quarts seperatly they would be close to 5.00 a quart. Last year, I froze about 24 quarts of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. They lasted until June. I make jams, syrups and wines this time of year.

Our approach to fruit is we eat what is in season and freeze, can or dehydrate what we need for the rest of the year. We do not start eating our preserved fruit until we have exhausted the fresh apples. We may treat ourselves to some oranges around Christmas and January birthdays. If we travel during the summer I may try to find local fruit; such as peaches , that I can take home and preserve. We have been known to purchase the odd banana now and again. But otherwise our fruit consumption is pretty local. So when I have to consider alternatives to what I have done in the past, it affects the bottom line of the food budget and whether we will have fruit next March. The ultimate lesson in food preservation is flexibility. If I am not able to put as many berries up as I did last year, then apple season becomes more important. I will consider cranberries this fall. There is a wild bog the next town over.


Plant: I have been pretty lame on this, this past month. But I have many hands tomorrow to help me in the garden so I plan to fill every empty spot with spinach.

Harvest: mint,oregano,yarrow, beet greens,mullein,garlic, onions, kale, comfrey, wild rapsberries, wild balckberries.

Preseve: This was herb week at our house. Tincture of yarrow and peppermint. Oregano oil, mullein and garlic oil,dehydrated oregano,dehydrated onion, froze balckberries, froze raspberries, raspberry jam, raspberry wine, 2 quarts of peas, 4 quarts of broccoli frozen, frozen purple pole beans.

Local food systems: U-pick raspberries, purple pole beans, broccoli, peas from a local farmstand. I investigate the possibility of a CSA share where we will be moving; to supplement a new garden plot. I found one that offers half a share for 200.00 with the option of a milk share for 60.00 , all share members have first dibs on U-pick. I found out there will be 4 farmers markets with in a 20 minute drive of our possible new home.

prepped/ managed reserves: Weed, weed ,weed. Pack, pack, pack.

Waste not: we are still making trips to the thrift store, recycling center, composting.

Eat the food: we have been eating last years pig still, we are eating alot of stuff from food storage but trying to add new life to the whole tortilla/bean and cheese thing. So many names for essentially the same food.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


It is quiet here this morning.  I am feeling a little foggy headed because I stayed up late reading some great escapist novel.  Hubby and the wee one just loaded up in the car for a big dude/little dude road trip down to Windsor for a VW Micro bus muster.  Teen is with his dad this weekend. 

This leaves me alone with myself and I. Oh and the cats and dog...

I was going to spend some time outside in the garden, perhaps mow the lawn. But it is pretty foggy outside and the bugs are a little pesky.  The big green sweater beckons me too.   I will work on this to the point where I can; before taking it to my client for a fitting. So I can also work on some non-work knitting.

I might finish the novel so I can get a good night's sleep tonight...

Or I might just take a nap:)

How do you spend time for yourself?